Named after civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, the bill would restore what the Supreme Court gutted in Shelby County v. Holder and add new protections. It would create a new coverage formula that constantly updates which jurisdictions need federal preclearance before changing voting rules.
The John Lewis Act would flatly and retroactively prohibit many of the recently enacted state Republican voter suppression laws. It also would stop any future laws or procedures that could be used to discriminate against voters from going into effect without a Justice Department preclearance.
This legislation ensures all Americans have full access to their most fundamental right. Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, states have unleashed a flood of restrictive voting laws, disproportionately affecting people of color and other marginalized communities. This includes voter intimidation, felon disenfranchisement laws built on top of a system of mass incarceration, strict photo ID requirements, polling place closures, restrictions on early and absentee voting, partisan purges from the voter rolls, and other barriers that prevent voters from exercising their most basic civic duty.
The John Lewis Act will protect Americans from these harmful anti-voting tactics by restoring and updating the Voting Rights Act’s full protections and instituting best practices for preventing future discrimination. It will allow for Election Day and same-day registration, ensure polling places are accessible, provide language assistance, and incentivize a fair and transparent election process. It will also prevent partisan efforts to “cage” voters and disenfranchise individuals who don’t have a set address, like seniors living with family members or snowbirds and people who move often.
For a democracy to work, citizens must have access to a polling place to vote privately. Voting locations are a key step in this process, so they must be free from discriminatory barriers. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would ensure that voters have access to polling places that are open, safe, and accessible.
The bill would reinstitute federal preclearance, which requires states and localities with a history of racial discrimination in voting to approve changes to their election laws and procedures with the federal government before they can take effect. This law would be updated to account for the most recent data and incorporate a wide range of factors, including the impact of new census data on electoral boundaries, how communities of color have changed over time, and the existence of racial disparities in voter turnout.
It also includes a new provision prohibiting intimidation against voters, election officials and workers, and anyone who “urges or aids another person in registering to vote.” In this way, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act seeks to curb the recent trend of threatening phone calls, emails, and social media messages sent to those involved in the democratic process.
More than half a century ago, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to end our country’s most blatant forms of election discrimination. Despite this success, many of its most crucial protections have been eroded by harmful Supreme Court decisions and a growing tide of anti-voting restrictions from state and local governments. We urge the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote: John Lewis Act and stop these damaging changes before they suffocate our democracy.
Named after the legendary Congressman and civil rights icon, this bill would bolster voting protections by updating the preclearance process. It would provide a modern-day formula to determine which states and localities have a history of discrimination and require approval from the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws. This ensures that any changes don’t make it harder for voters of color to vote, which is a key step in protecting the integrity and fairness of our democracy.
This bill also requires state election authorities to allow federal observers at all polling places and sites where in-person early voting occurs. Observers may not enter private voting areas, interact with voters or election workers, handle ballots or other election materials, view classified voter information, photograph people, or interfere with voting.
The 2020 election was a reminder of how important, if not essential, it is for Black and Brown voters to be able to make their voices heard. The need to preserve and strengthen our democracy has never been more pressing, but it is being jeopardized by a wave of new restrictive state laws and voting barriers, many of which are motivated by race.
Efforts to disenfranchise voters have reached a fever pitch since the Supreme Court gutted vital elements of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. This legislation, reintroduced in the House today and sponsored by Representative Terri Sewell, would modernize and revitalize the Voting Rights Act.
It would require states and localities with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws, vastly improving the original Voting Rights Act’s preclearance formula. The legislation would also allow communities of color to “bail-in” to the process if they can demonstrate that changes in their voting laws have made them worse off than the status quo.
It would restore the right to vote for people with certain felony convictions after they finish their sentences, expand access protections for people with disabilities and those serving in the military or overseas, and protect against voter intimidation and interference by partisan actors. This legislation allows Congress to take the action necessary to bolster our democracy at this critical moment.