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What Is the John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act?


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

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“Have you ever ever been required to reply 100 questions on authorities … merely to vote?  Have you ever ever stood in keeping with over 100 others and, after ready a whole day, seen lower than ten given the qualifying take a look at?

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

The New York Occasions, February 5, 1965

Six months later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which specialists contemplate the simplest 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 various representatives—has been systematically gutted and offered for elements.

Just a few notable courtroom choices weakened enforcement measures of the legislation, together with a 2013 swimsuit (Shelby County v. Holder) and one other in 2021 (Brnovich v. Democratic Nationwide Committee). Final yr noticed the newest assault in opposition to the legislation: An Arkansas ruling in 2023 declared that residents should not have the best to file lawsuits implementing the Voting Rights Act and that instances as a substitute must be introduced by the federal authorities. In complete, 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 Development Act, proposed laws that might restore and defend voting rights, is called for Civil Rights activist (and King’s pal and frequent collaborator) U.S. Rep. John Lewis. If handed, it could modernize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, safeguarding the democratic course of. Right here’s what it’s, the way it impacts us all and why it issues for the outside.

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Photograph credit score: Dustin Kingman

What’s the John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act?

The John Lewis Voting Rights Development 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 at the least two weeks of early voting. At the moment, 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 adjustments at the least 180 days earlier than an election. 
  • Scale back discriminatory voting laws. The John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act restores the follow of preclearance, the place states or localities with a historical past of discrimination (like requiring literacy assessments or having traditionally low voter registration numbers) must preapprove adjustments to voting legal guidelines or practices on the federal stage. It additionally seeks to make some forms of voting adjustments topic to preclearance nationwide, like redistricting minority-heavy neighborhoods or decreasing non-English voting supplies. 
  • Allow voters to take authorized motion. The proposed Development Act makes it simpler for voters to carry forth—and win—lawsuits in opposition to discriminatory insurance policies equivalent to gerrymandering (altering electoral districts earlier than an election with a view to profit one occasion 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 Development Act handed within the Home however failed within the Senate in 2021; it was reintroduced within the 118th Congress in September 2023.

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Photograph credit score: Hannah Shea

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

The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 resulted in a major improve in voter registration—inside months, a quarter of 1,000,000 Black voters have been registered, and total voter turnout elevated by as a lot as 19 proportion factors. Past 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 various illustration of the inhabitants. It additionally resulted in shifts to total occasion ideologies—shifts that mirrored the wishes 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. Because the 2013 Shelby County resolution weakened the act’s enforcement measures, communities have seen the elimination of polling locations on school campuses, a purge of voters from the rolls with out warning, intense partisan gerrymandering and voter ID legal guidelines that make voting tougher for a lot of. When Individuals can’t vote, our nation fails to replicate residents’ values and elected leaders usually don’t share residents’ issues.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act combats makes an attempt to disenfranchise all individuals, particularly communities of shade, the aged, low-income people and the LGBTQ+ group. As Human Rights Marketing campaign president Kelley Robinson emphasised in an announcement supporting the act, “The muse of our democracy rests on ensuring that everybody—everybody—has entry to the poll field.”

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Photograph credit score: James Harnois

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

Nearly all of locations the place Individuals recreate are public, that means they’re created, managed and ruled by public companies and funded with public {dollars}, says REI Cooperative Motion Community supervisor Alicia Harvie. Solely those that vote can elect representatives who will fund these companies and prioritize the problems going through out of doors areas and communities.

It’s not simply representatives on the poll, both: Points associated to the outside are sometimes put to public measure. In any given yr, voters might 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 may’t occur if Individuals are denied the best to vote. Each 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 Motion Community is a civic engagement program that gives members within the co-op group with straightforward and fast methods to study and lift their voice in favor of insurance policies that affect the outside. “The Cooperative Motion Community has a proud legacy of talking up in assist of voting rights and free, honest and safe elections,” says Harvie. REI has publicly supported the John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act because it was first launched within the U.S. Home 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 defend in opposition to voter suppression, gerrymandering, election subversion and extra. Collectively, these payments would offer a one-two punch of restoring the best to vote for all Individuals and defending America’s election infrastructure. The concept of “one particular person, one vote” is as foundational to any co-op as it’s to democracy. 

Utilizing 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 Development Act, along with the Freedom to Vote Act, would safeguard that supreme, permitting residents to form insurance policies and battle for a greater world, now and into the longer term.

Don’t look ahead to an election to train your voice.

Message your representatives now by way of REI.com, urging them to guard our proper to vote at the moment.

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