Why we need the John Lewis Voting Rights Act

Harlan Crawford is a freshman politics major.

Metyia Phillips is a sophomore politics major.

GRAPHIC BY NATALIE MORRIS/GRAPHICS CENTER

Civil rights activist and U.S. Representative John Lewis made history March 7, 1965 when he led the first of three marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis was joined by 600 other peaceful protestors beside him as they marched for voting rights for Black people. The historic day later became known as Bloody Sunday — 58 individuals sustained injuries as a result of police brutality while Lewis himself suffered from a skull fracture after being clubbed by an officer. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act honors Lewis’ legacy by promising solutions to the U.S.’ severe crisis of voter suppression through a comprehensive voting, elections, and ethics system. During the past five years, the U.S. has witnessed frightening levels of democratic erosion. This piece of legislation sends a message both domestically and globally that nothing outweighs the voices of every citizen in a democracy. Principles such as these were what Lewis risked his life for, and it’s essential to carry on his vision with so much at stake. 

Politicians have historically used voter suppression to disenfranchise marginalized communities in order to win elections they wouldn’t otherwise. Perhaps because the 2020 presidential election saw a record voter turnout, 43 states introduced 253 bills in its aftermath to restrict voting access. This assault on Americans’ rights is nothing new, but it prompted Democrats to propose the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (H.R.1). The bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives March 3, will face the House Judiciary Committee in the Senate soon and, if passed, will work to amend and uphold crucial provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, many of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. 

From former President Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns in his reelection campaign, to the closing of polling stations in several counties across Texas, to the gerrymandering that took place in multiple states, like Georgia, the 2020 presidential election was anything but just. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act will address these issues of voter suppression and candidate dishonesty by planning a series of initiatives to stop gerrymandering, increase transparency, and alleviate voter suppression. 

Colloquially known as the “For The People Act,” the bill includes a variety of measures to make voting in elections more equitable and will institute automatic national voter registration from various databases unless a citizen opts out. Ensuring automatic voter registration is essential as the burdens of daily life can often inhibit participation in the civic process. The bill will also allow people to register to vote on the day of elections and require there to be at least 15 days of early voting before national elections. 

 In an attempt to cease all gerrymandering, the bill promises that only nonpartisan committees not composed of lawmakers will approve new congressional districts. Candidates will also be held more accountable for disclosing who funded their campaign under the bill. Additionally, funding will be matched for smaller donations at a 6:1 ratio from the “Freedom From Influence Fund,” which is important because, in the present, our political donation space has become overly controlled by for-profit, multi-billion dollar corporations, instead of by the people. This measure encourages small-dollar donations, instead of corporate PAC donations, which have been a corrupting force in American politics for many years. The bill also promises to establish an ethics code to prevent members of Congress from using tax dollars for their own benefit, which would be enforced by the Supreme Court. Lastly, all presidential candidates will be required by law to disclose their tax returns. 

Although the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the bill, it is expected to receive pushback once it reaches the U.S. Senate because it has been deemed “unconstitutional” by many bipartisan and nonpartisan organizations and political leaders. Their argument is that it infringes on the rights of candidates and donors by making them release their tax records and donors list. We believe this argument is invalid because releasing that information makes elections more transparent and gives Americans a truer picture of who they are voting for. 

Voting must be made more equitable and transparent. For a nation that claims to strive for equality, it is vital that we recognize our responsibility to stand up for those who have been civically oppressed for so long. With the comprehensive John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we have a historic opportunity to ensure that every American citizen will have their voting rights protected and, consequently, have a voice in shaping their government. 

We urge the Senate and President Joe Biden to swiftly pass this critically needed legislation to ensure safe, seamless, and secure access to the ballot for all Americans. As politics majors, we are passionate about voters’ rights and hope to use our understanding of electoral politics and oppressive systems to ensure civil equity for all. 

To do your part to make this nation more just and equitable for all, make sure you check your voter status, call or email your senator, exercise your right to vote, and encourage ethics in the U.S. voting and elections system by signing a petition in support of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act today. 

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