While many people celebrated the historic passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, some grassroots organizers are reminding people that the fight to end voter suppression is far from over.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, in its most recent form, aims to strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was subsequently gutted in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision. After civil rights activist and Rep. John Lewis’ passing last year, the Act was reintroduced and renamed in his honor by Sen. Patrick Leahy, together with other senators. On the House side, the lead sponsor was Rep. Terri Sewell.
Though Democrats have control over the Senate, the likelihood of getting enough Republican votes is slim. Currently, there is only one known GOP supporter, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Some voting rights activists worry the legislation is unlikely to pass in the Senate in September, since Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated earlier this summer that the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is “unnecessary.” This makes it more likely that McConnell and other Republicans will vote along party lines or use the filibuster option, as they have in the past, to block the legislation.
“We cannot celebrate the passage of this bill without getting real about the roadblocks that stand in its way to becoming law,” said Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project and New Georgia Project Action Fund, in a recent statement. “The foundation of our democracy is at stake, and the path forward to fortify it is clear: We need the White House and the Senate to utilize every tool at their disposal to ensure swift passage of this bill and the For The People Act, and end the filibuster.”
Voting rights have been under attack in recent years: Nearly 400 pieces of Republican-backed legislation have been introduced across 48 states, making it more difficult for people to cast their ballots.
“Vote suppression has a long and ugly history in the U.S., and over the last two decades, it has resurfaced with a vengeance, ” according to a statement by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute.
Despite the ongoing attempt to disenfranchise voters, many Republican politicians posit that American voters do not need protections anymore, and that voting suppression is a thing of the past. Rep. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican and Arizona lawmaker, told CNN earlier this year that “Everybody should not be voting.” Conservatives like Rep. Kavanagh charge that voting rights activists support or encourage widespread fraudulent voting, even though there have been no proven instances of this actually happening.
While U.S. voters don’t have to worry about 1960s-era literacy tests, poll taxes, or absurd guessing games before they’re granted permission to cast a ballot, many still face significant hurdles. Many would-be voters face long lines due to decreased voting sites and limited hours. Some states also put strict restrictions on voter registration days and absentee voting, and some have introduced strict voter ID laws. Subtle voter suppression tactics include receiving disinformation campaigns via robocalls, texts, push notifications, or emails with incorrect information relating to voting dates and times, or voting requirements aiming to target and discourage Black, brown, or other disenfranchised people from voting.
In a statement on Tuesday, Meagan Hatcher-Mays, Indivisible’s director of democracy policy, called the John Lewis Rights Advancement Act a “once in a generation opportunity.”
“We need the John Lewis Voting Rights Act signed into law, along with the For the People Act, as soon as is humanly possible—without these bills, there will be no end to the GOP’s march towards authoritarianism. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act looks forward in time and says how we can prevent bad bills from passing in the first place.”
Ahead of the Senate vote on the The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, activists are preparing for the Aug. 28 March On for Voting Rights nationwide protest. Collectively, hundreds of thousands of marchers are expected in Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, and nearly 50 other cities across the country to advocate for restoring voting rights and the passage of the bill.
“As a young person, it is fundamental that our voting rights be protected,” said Sopia Woodrow, the community manager of Future Coalition. “This act, combined with the action imminent with March On For Voting Rights, demonstrates a renewed commitment to protecting the voices of every American.”
Moving forward, regardless of the passage of the bill in the Senate, many organizations are focused on continuing to educate their community about their individual voting rights. Many volunteers for grassroots organizations will continue to mobilize others by connecting with new and returning voters, while also continuing outreach via online advocacy campaigns.