What Is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act?

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In February 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. penned a letter from a Selma, Alabama, jail, which was revealed as a quarter-page advert in The New York Times. In it, he wrote:

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“Have you ever been required to answer 100 questions on government … merely to vote?  Have you ever stood in line with over a hundred others and, after waiting an entire day, seen less than ten given the qualifying test?

THIS IS SELMA, ALABAMA. THERE ARE MORE NEGROES IN JAIL WITH ME THAN THERE ARE ON THE VOTING ROLLS.”

The New York Times, February 5, 1965

Six months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which consultants think about the best piece of civil rights laws ever enacted. Sixty years later, that legislation—which registered hundreds of thousands of voters and enfranchised traditionally marginalized communities who, in flip, elected extra numerous representatives—has been systematically gutted and bought for elements.

Just a few notable court docket choices weakened enforcement measures of the legislation, together with a 2013 swimsuit (Shelby County v. Holder) and one other in 2021 (Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee). Last yr noticed the latest assault in opposition to the legislation: An Arkansas ruling in 2023 declared that residents shouldn’t have the correct to file lawsuits imposing the Voting Rights Act and that instances as an alternative need to be introduced by the federal authorities. In whole, 19 states have handed voter suppression legal guidelines since 2020, and greater than 400 comparable payments have been launched in 49 states. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, proposed laws that might restore and shield voting rights, is called for civil rights activist (and King’s buddy and frequent collaborator) U.S. Rep. John Lewis. If handed, it could modernize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, safeguarding the democratic course of. Here’s what it’s, the way it impacts us all and why it issues for the outside.

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Photo credit score: Dustin Kingman

What is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act?

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act protects everybody’s proper to vote, prevents discrimination on the polls and calls for better transparency within the voting course of. It builds upon the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in three key methods: 

  • Make the voting course of accessible. The act goals to cut back voting boundaries by requiring all states to supply same-day registration and no less than two weeks of early voting. Currently, 22 states enable election-day registration (plus North Dakota, the place registration isn’t required), and 47 supply early voting. The laws would additionally require officers to publicly announce all voting modifications no less than 180 days earlier than an election. 
  • Reduce discriminatory voting rules. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act restores the follow of preclearance, the place states or localities with a historical past of discrimination (like requiring literacy checks or having traditionally low voter registration numbers) need to preapprove modifications to voting legal guidelines or practices on the federal degree. It additionally seeks to make some forms of voting modifications topic to preclearance nationwide, like redistricting minority-heavy neighborhoods or lowering non-English voting supplies. 
  • Enable voters to take authorized motion. The proposed Advancement Act makes it simpler for voters to convey forth—and win—lawsuits in opposition to discriminatory insurance policies similar to gerrymandering (altering electoral districts earlier than an election with a view to profit one social gathering over the opposite) or legal guidelines requiring picture IDs with a view to vote, which disproportionately have an effect on marginalized communities and scale back voter turnout. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act handed within the House however failed within the Senate in 2021; it was reintroduced within the 118th Congress in September 2023.

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Photo credit score: Hannah Shea

How does the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act have an effect on us all?

The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 resulted in a major enhance in voter registration—inside months, a quarter of 1,000,000 Black voters had been registered, and total voter turnout elevated by as a lot as 19 proportion factors. Beyond people exercising their proper to vote, the Voting Rights Act led to shifts in insurance policies (like elevated funding for public colleges) due to extra correct and numerous illustration of the inhabitants. It additionally resulted in shifts to whole social gathering ideologies—shifts that mirrored the needs of U.S. residents. 

In different phrases, the continued erosion of the Voting Rights Act doesn’t simply threaten voter turnout—it undermines our march towards a very consultant democracy. Since the 2013 Shelby County choice weakened the act’s enforcement measures, communities have seen the elimination of polling locations on faculty campuses, a purge of voters from the rolls with out warning, intense partisan gerrymandering and voter ID legal guidelines that make voting harder for a lot of. When Americans can’t vote, our nation fails to mirror residents’ values and elected leaders typically don’t share residents’ issues.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act combats makes an attempt to disenfranchise all folks, particularly communities of shade, the aged, low-income people and the LGBTQ+ neighborhood. As Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson emphasised in a press release supporting the act, “The foundation of our democracy rests on making sure that everyone—everyone—has access to the ballot box.”

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Photo credit score: James Harnois

How does the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act have an effect on the outside?

The majority of locations the place Americans recreate are public, that means they’re created, managed and ruled by public businesses and funded with public {dollars}, says REI Cooperative Action Network supervisor Alicia Harvie. Only those that vote can elect representatives who will fund these businesses and prioritize the problems dealing with out of doors areas and communities.

It’s not simply representatives on the poll, both: Issues associated to the outside are sometimes put to public measure. In any given yr, voters could instantly approve billions of {dollars} in park funding, path infrastructure and climate-related insurance policies that have an effect on the well being of our lands, waters and extra. By voting, we’re letting our representatives know what we care about—and the form of world we need to dwell in.

That can’t occur if Americans are denied the correct to vote. Every election is an opportunity for a greater world and a more healthy atmosphere—however provided that that election is free and honest.

The REI Cooperative Action Network is a civic engagement program that gives members within the co-op neighborhood with straightforward and fast methods to find out about and lift their voice in favor of insurance policies that affect the outside. “The Cooperative Action Network has a proud legacy of speaking up in support of voting rights and free, fair and secure elections,” says Harvie. REI has publicly supported the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act because it was first launched within the U.S. House of Representatives. The co-op additionally stands behind the Freedom to Vote Act, a complete invoice to safeguard the integrity of our elections by setting nationwide requirements for voting rights and election administration that shield in opposition to voter suppression, gerrymandering, election subversion and extra. Together, these payments would offer a one-two punch of restoring the correct to vote for all Americans and defending America’s election infrastructure. The thought of “one person, one vote” is as foundational to any co-op as it’s to democracy. 

Using our voices, we will make our communities and the areas we recreate a mirrored image of our values. The passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, along with the Freedom to Vote Act, would safeguard that best, permitting residents to form insurance policies and battle for a greater world, now and into the long run.

Don’t watch for an election to train your voice.

Message your representatives now through REI.com, urging them to guard our proper to vote right this moment.

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