As the 2020 elections made abundantly clear, racist voter suppression is alive and well in America. It’s time to do something about it by passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Since our country’s inception, far too many Americans have been discriminated against and disenfranchised at the ballot box due to racist barriers to voting. In the past decade, states have been given even more power to erect racist barriers to the ballot box.
This was no accident. In 2013, the Supreme Court opened up the door to a wave of voter suppression by gutting the Voting Rights Act, one of the biggest achievements of the Civil Rights Movement. Their reason? The law was working and voter suppression was far less rampant than when the Voting Rights Act was first enacted. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it at the time, the Court’s decision was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
The past decade has proved Justice Ginsburg right. According to the Brennan Center, since 2013, at least 20 states have enacted new voting restrictions, including Texas, Georgia, and Arizona. We’ve seen early voting days cut, thousands of polling places closed, millions of voters purged from the voter rolls, and long lines to vote stretching around the block in an intentional effort to stop Black and Brown Americans from exercising their right to vote. An analysis from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that in 2016 alone more than a million Americans tried to vote but couldn’t because they faced problems at the polls.
In 2020, we again saw thousands of closed polling places in communities of color, resulting in long lines and voters waiting for as long as twelve hours to vote, attempts to throw out votes because of the method a voter used to cast their ballot, and even attempts to throw out the votes of entire cities with large Black and Brown populations.
Voter suppression is NOT ancient history and these policy changes weren’t an accident. They were the result of a systematic and intentional effort to stop Black and Brown Americans from exercising their fundamental rights
We need a new Voting Right Act.
Much like the original Voting Rights Act, the new John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act is designed to stop racist voter suppression by putting a check on states with a history of discrimination and disenfranchisement before they can enact changes to voting processes. The legislation would once again give the Department of Justice the power to stop states from indiscriminately purging voters, closing polling places in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods, implementing stringent voter ID laws with a discriminatory impact, or creating new political districts that dilute the voting power of people of color. It would not only stop discriminatory voter suppression before it happens, it would also create a stronger legal framework to reverse racist laws that suppress the vote if they have already been enacted.
A new Voting Rights Act would reverse the past decade’s backslide toward voter suppression targeting people of color and dismantle barriers to voting that impact communities of color the most.
The Path to Winning
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act is supported by nearly all House and Senate Democrats, but it is up to us to use the momentum we have now to push every member of Congress to publicly support it, make its passage a priority, and ensure the filibuster doesn’t stand in the way in the Senate.
In order to ensure that a new Voting Rights Act can survive any future challenges in court, Congress will first need to create a robust record of evidence to demonstrate why they may need to treat some states or jurisdictions differently than others. This will come in the form of Congress holding hearings in early 2021. Once that happens, they can finally vote on this critical legislation.
Here’s where you fit in. We want every member of the House of Representatives on the record supporting the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act before hearings conclude and it comes up for a vote. Take a minute to send an email to your representatives demanding that they take a stand against racist voter suppression: