Photo: National Urban League
American democracy is in a state of emergency. Without federal voting rights legislation, discriminatory voting laws will continue to pass unchallenged and harm millions in their wake. Following the US Senate’s recent failure to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R Lewis Act, civil rights leaders urged senators to continue pressing for the bill.
But understanding how deeply the absence of its protections will continue to affect voters is key to the bill’s success.
Arguably the most crucial measure of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was section 5’s pre-clearance requirement that states with a recent history of voter discrimination get approval from the justice department before implementing voting changes.
However, the US supreme court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v Holder struck down the pre-clearance requirement claiming that voting conditions for racial minorities had improved and that its use was outdated. Since then, numerous states passed laws they had previously abandoned due to the threat of pre-clearance.
Other states continued to enact laws restricting voting that were already under way before Shelby. These statutes are so restrictive they would have never seen the light of day if pre-clearance was still intact. New voter suppression laws in Texas, Georgia and Florida are the most recent examples of these efforts.
The Freedom to Vote: John R Lewis Act (FTV) – which combines two previous bills to defend voting rights and democracy more broadly – would restore the section 5 pre-clearance provisions and create protections against the most common obstacles faced by voters.
Those of us on the frontlines in the fight for voting rights know the immediate impact these bills would have on our communities. Read more.