Understanding the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – A Comprehensive Guide

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Terri Sewell led every House Democrat in introducing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill would modernize and revitalize the full protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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The right to vote is a fundamental aspect of American democracy. For many decades, Black Americans fought – and in some cases died – to secure it. These efforts founded the 14th Amendment, establishing equal protection, and the 15th Amendment, prohibiting denial of voting rights based on race. Despite this constitutional guarantee, racial disparities in voting remain significant. This is a reality that the REI Cooperative Action Network and many other organizations have long sought to address.

Earlier this year, Rep. Terri Sewell introduced the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, H.R. 14, with the support of every House Democrat. This legislation aims to fight voter suppression and restore and update critical provisions of the Voting Rights Act, initially passed in 1965.

The bill has received a bipartisan group of 47 co-sponsors in the Senate, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the sole Republican to join Democrats on this issue. But Republicans blocked consideration of the bill by blocking a procedural vote on whether to open debate on it.

Because this bill would make it possible for all Americans to take part fully in our democracy, NASW is in favor of it. Protecting the right to vote is essential, but much more needs to be done. We urge members of Congress to join the majority of citizens who support this critical legislation and pass it as soon as possible.

Legal Issues

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is essential legislation to end voter suppression. It would create critical nationwide standards for early voting, voting restoration, and voter identification and empower voters to challenge any laws that discriminate against them. It also updates and modernizes the original Voting Rights Act by eliminating the heightened standard created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Brnovich v. DNC, which limits the ability of racial minorities to challenge state election rules they find discriminatory.

The bill reauthorizes Section 5 of the original Voting Rights Act, which requires states and localities with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting practices. This ensures that all Americans can vote without facing racially discriminatory barriers. The bill would also create a new formula for identifying areas that need preclearance by considering recent discriminatory practices and other factors.

The bill also includes protections against wrongful voter purges and increases transparency by requiring states to publish their proposed voting changes in a public database. According to a 2019 HRC Foundation survey, the main reason people don’t vote is because they are afraid of or have experienced discrimination. By removing obstacles to democracy, this law will help address this issue head-on. It is an excellent first step, but we need to do more.

Voter Protections

As a member-owned co-op, REI supports democracy and the freedom to vote. But for many people, the right to cast a ballot is threatened. Laws like gerrymandering and imposing photo I.D. requirements make it harder for communities of color to have their voices heard in the polling booth. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore and modernize the full protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), safeguarding our democracy.

The bill would restore the preclearance requirement, updating the formula to cover states with recent histories of voting rights discrimination. It would prohibit states and localities from making fundamental changes to their elections without federal approval and prevent them from implementing laws that could disenfranchise people of color or other historically oppressed groups.

Since the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013, states have enacted restrictive voting laws that disproportionately impact Black and Brown voters, young adults, and people with disabilities. From shortened early voting periods to long lines, to purged voter rolls and restrictions on voting by mail and imposing strict I.D. rules, the Justice Department has found that thousands of Americans have been denied their fundamental civil rights and hindered from casting their ballots in recent years.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will fix the problems the Supreme Court created in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) and Brnovich v. DNC (2021). It’s time for Congress to pass this critical legislation.


A core part of the Voting Rights Act is a process known as “preclearance.” Preclearance requires states or localities with a history of discriminatory voting to get approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, DC, before changing their election laws. These changes are reviewed to ensure they don’t negatively impact people of color or other historically disadvantaged groups.

However, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) that the preclearance mechanism, which determines which states and localities are subject to it, is unconstitutional. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will replace the antiquated formula with a more modern one, restoring this crucial protection.

Using the new coverage formula, the bill would establish criteria for state governments and localities that can be subject to Section 5 preclearance, like those that have had multiple documented voting rights violations in the past 25 years or have a history of discrimination by race or ethnicity. It also expands the ability for jurisdictions to “bail-in” to the coverage list by showing a track record of not harming voters of color.

The new law would also make voting more accessible by eliminating some of the most egregious voting restrictions, such as requiring photo identification to cast a ballot or restricting when and where people can vote. According to a recent HRC Foundation survey, 35% of transgender persons and 22% of LGBTQ adults said they had never voted in an election because they were afraid of being discriminated against.

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