As some background, this legislation (named, obviously, for the late Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat who served Georgia and a civil rights icon) would update the Voting Rights Act to address a Supreme Court ruling from 2013. This ruling struck an important provision that mandated jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to receive preclearance for new voting regulations. Why was this important? So places with a history of discrimination couldn’t just push new regulations and requirements that would further disenfranchise folks. Makes sense.
However, in Shelby County v. Holder, the court ultimately ruled 5-4 that this was unconstitutional, deciding that the formula used was out of date. This ruling essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act. Shortly thereafter, Republican lawmakers made it all the harder for folks to vote, by, for example, issuing new voter ID requirements and getting rid of same-day voting options.
And now? In short, this bill would once again mandate that these jurisdictions would need preclearance from the Department of Justice to make changes to their election laws and procedures, based on an updated formula. It’s important! And, as one might imagine, Republican lawmakers aren’t eager to get things back to where they should be.
The letter acknowledges that communities of color face particular barriers to vote, thanks to voter suppression. “Despite decades of progress, impediments to exercising the right to vote persist in many states, especially for communities of color,” the letter reads in part. “We need federal protections to safeguard this fundamental right for all Americans.”
Interestingly, the letter does not mention Donald Trump by name. Why might it? Because, as Daily Kos covered at length, Trump tried repeatedly to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Daily Kos has also covered a number of bills Republicans like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemo have pushed at the state level in attempts to further disenfranchise voters.
Instead, the letter focuses on a positive framing for the United States. One example? In terms of the 2020 election, the letter says, “Americans came together to work the polls, get out the vote, and cast their ballots in spite of the pandemic, achieving historic levels of voter participation.” That’s great—and it’s everyone’s job to fight voter suppression and discrimination and make sure every American can act on their right to vote.