Voting Rights Are In Jeopardy. Are There Any Solutions on the Horizon?

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The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was pivotal in protecting the voting rights secured in the 15th Amendment. Unfortunately, in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court struck down an important component of the VRA, which required states with a history of discriminatory voting restrictions to obtain federal approval for future changes to their voting laws. The Court instructed Congress to update the formula, but while Congress debates how to proceed on multiple voting rights bills, the Court’s decision has led to the rapid passage and implementation of voter suppression tactics by states including identification laws, signature matching requirements, address requirements, and limited vote-by-mail options. These changes are severely hindering voting access for communities of color and other marginalized groups. In Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, for example, 80 percent of voters removed from voter rolls for lack of a signature match or inactivity were people of color, yet people of color only comprise 41.5 percent of Georgia’s population.

Humanists are strong proponents of egalitarianism; we believe that all humans should be treated with equal empathy and dignity. The rise in voter suppression silences the voices of minorities that deserve the right to fair and free elections. Without equal access to voting for everyone, our laws and systems of government are inequitable. The establishment of a new preclearance formula is necessary to make sure voting rights violators cannot disenfranchise communities of color. There are many legislative efforts in Congress to draft a new formula, but they have been met with roadblocks. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is a key piece of legislation that directly addresses the much-needed preclearance formula.

The passage of HR.4 – John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) is necessary to combat current voter disenfranchisement. Passing the VRAA would restore and update a targeted coverage formula for reviewing voting changes based on discriminatory measures or changes that lead to discriminatory outcomes. Additionally, it would establish new criteria for which states must obtain federal preapproval by the Department of Justice before changes to voting practices can take effect, depending on a state’s record of discriminatory voting practices in a rolling 25-year window. The VRAA would also require pre-approval for states that change voter ID requirements for in-person and mail-in voters to make them stricter than federal requirements. Another important component of the VRAA is the reasonable public notice by states and localities of changes to voting practices. The VRAA is important as it enables the Attorney General of the United States to assign election observers to be present anywhere in the country where there is a serious threat to voter access and fair elections.

The VRAA is widely supported, passing the House with 219 yea votes. It is also supported by more than 200 organizations including the American Humanist Association, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the NAACP.

While this necessary piece of legislation has passed the house, it is still waiting for a vote in the Senate, which Senate Majority Leaders Schumer has said could come as early as next week. Now, more than ever, the support of this legislation is largely split amongst party-lines, as is seen by the 219-212 party line split vote in the House. Yet, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) remain unsupportive in the Senate.. In an attempt to garner more votes, Congressional supporters attempted to pass the more broad-based Freedom to Vote Act this week, but it was blocked by Senate Republicans in a party-line vote.

Take action today and tell your Senator to vote in favor of S.4 – John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.