NEW YORK, NY — Demos President Taifa Smith Butler issued the following statement on Wednesday as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act, a measure aimed at protecting voting rights for all Americans, failed to proceed to a floor vote despite the support of a majority of Senators:
“In the midst of disgraceful efforts to block Black and brown people’s access to the ballot, our democracy needs the landmark legislation embodied in the bi-partisan John R. Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act. This bill is about protecting the most sacred right in a democracy — the right of all people to vote and make their voices heard. This will give us a Voting Rights Act that can fulfill its long-standing goals of protecting our elections against racial discrimination and achieving a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy.
“The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act will prevent discriminatory changes to voting laws from being enacted, and provide communities with tools to bring court challenges against discriminatory laws that are already in place. In doing so, this bill will be a major step toward rooting out racism now and long into the future.
“Moving toward becoming an inclusive, multiracial democracy first requires knocking down all barriers aimed at diminishing the power of Black and brown communities in our elections. It is time for us to live up to the ideals and values of the late Congressman John R. Lewis, a man who spent his lifetime passionately defending democracy. In the wake of today’s vote blocking the bill from coming to the floor in the Senate, we call on the Senate and the White House to do all that it takes to enact this bill and protect the right to vote and our very democracy.”
Background on the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act:
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act would restore and strengthen Section 5 and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court’s decisions in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) and Brnovich v. DNC (2021) undermined these sections of the Voting Rights Act. Since those decisions, dozens of states across the country have enacted racially discriminatory changes to their voting laws, undermining the goal of free, fair and accessible elections.
Some of the key provisions of the Act include:
Updating the geographic preclearance coverage formula in the Voting Rights Act, effectively restoring Section 5. Doing so will help determine which states must seek preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal district court for the District of Columbia before implementing changes in voting laws and procedures. The measure also will add a new practice-based preclearance formula targeting practices nationwide that are widely known to have a discriminatory impact.
Clarifying Section 2 by detailing the factors courts must consider in assessing whether an enactment has a discriminatory effect, as well as factors that the courts should not weigh against a finding of discrimination.
Incorporating the “Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021,” providing a comprehensive set of protections for Native American and Alaska Native voters, who long have experienced discriminatory barriers to voting.
Establishing robust notice and transparency requirements that states must comply with when making changes to voting procedures and laws, so that affected communities will know in advance when, for example, a polling place is being eliminated or moved to a new location.
Ensuring protection of poll workers and election officials through new prohibitions against engaging in intimidation or threatening or committing violence against election workers and officials.
Protecting against efforts to subvert elections by officials who attempt to refuse to tabulate and count validly cast votes.