Let’s Get the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act Passed

Rep. John Lewis (1940-2020) in front of the Edmund Pettis Bridge

If the outcome of the second impeachment trial tells us anything, it is that the Republican party will go to any length to desecrate democracy.

So as we look ahead at how to push back a party whose only goal is to collect and wield power, we must look at one of the most powerful weapons we have to keep them OUT of power. Voting rights.

As you all let me know in my annual reader survey, the most important issue you feel we must tackle in 2021 is expanding the vote and cutting off Republicans’ ability to suppress the vote. So first up, let’s talk about the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and how that’s a crucial piece of how we can achieve that goal.

Why this bill is so important

To understand why this Act is so important, we need to look at some history. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a landmark decision that was the culmination of a lot of work by civil rights groups. You can read my short history of that effort HERE. Central to this effort was to secure the right to vote without barriers. Broadly speaking, the Voting Rights Act made race-based restrictions on voting illegal.

A crucial part of the VRA, Section 4, stipulated that states that had been found to use restrictive voting barriers, such as poll taxes, had to get “preclearance” before enacting any new voting laws. The preclearance essentially acted as a checkpoint and stopped a lot of voter suppression in its tracks.

But earlier this decade, Shelby County in Alabama sued to declare that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, declaring that the formula used to determine if a state needed preclearance was outdated and no longer valid. The case, Shelby County v. Holder went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in a 5-4 decision in 2013, SCOTUS agreed with Shelby County and invalidated the formula in Section 4.

Since the Shelby decision, the number of restrictive voting provisions and voter suppression tactics has skyrocketed. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (also referred to as HR4) was designed to tackle this problem.

What the Act would accomplish

The Act details a new formula to replace the old preclearance formula, so that once again, states that have repeated voting rights violations over a 25 year period will have to get special permission to change any voting rules.

It also sets up a process for how new voting rules will be reviewed particularly in areas with a highly diverse population.

To increase transparency, the bill also requires that states give the public a reasonable amount of time to review new voting proposals.

Following the 2020 election, the number of voter suppression bills being proposed in the state legislatures has skyrocketed which only indicates just how important it is for us to pass this Act, and quickly.

During the last Congress, the House passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act. To mark the importance of passing this bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi arranged to have Rep. John Lewis, the legendary civil rights icon who was present at the signing of the original Voting Rights Act, hold the gavel during the vote. After he passed away in the summer of 2020, the House renamed the bill to include his name on it.

But of course the Republicans held the Senate at that time, and Mitch McConnell didn’t even allow a single hearing on it. Now, we have control over both of the chambers, so we must once again push to get this Act passed.

How to help: Pressure the Senate

Now, getting the Senate to pass this Act wouldn’t be hard if we just needed a simple majority. We have 50 Democratic Senators plus the Vice President. But, as we know know, the existence of the filibuster means that we’ll need 60 votes to get this Act passed. So, when you call your Senators about this issue this week, I need to you to ask them for 2 things:

First, tell them that you support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and that you want it to be passed quickly.

Second, in order to pass it quickly enough to force the states with terrible voting rights records to go through the new preclearance protocol before passing any new legislation related to voting, ask your Senator to get rid of the filibuster.

Thank you for fighting for voting rights!




    Over the past two years alone, we’ve seen Republicans at every level of government, from state to federal officials, aggressively suppress the vote in communities of color. Twelve-hour long lines, poll closures, voter purges, and oppressive voter ID laws have all become the norm as Republicans attempt to further consolidate their political power in the face of an increasingly diverse, liberal electorate. Our democracy is currently rigged towards the white and wealthy, and those whose power is threatened by the existence of a multiracial, representative democracy rely on voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, corrupt money in politics, and other mechanisms to oppress Black people and people of color to maintain their hold on power.

    That’s why we need bold, progressive democracy reform to create a functional democracy in which everyone is included and represented. Without it, we can’t achieve any of our other goals. All the issues we care about deeply: health care, immigration, ending wars, racial justice, climate change—fixing these things requires a democracy that is responsive to the people, not the powerful and wealthy.

    H.R. 4, The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, alongside the H.R. 1, the For the People Act and H.R. 51, the D.C. statehood bill, are the cornerstones of the necessary reforms we need to unrig our democracy and make it work for all. Keep reading to learn more about the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and what you can do to pressure your members of Congress to make it happen.

    Indivisible’s Democracy Reform Agenda

    Our democracy is rigged to favor the white and wealthy. In addition to the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we need bold, structural reforms to fix every aspect of our democracy, such as court expansion and making D.C. the 51st state. Read about the rest of our democracy reform priorities, and then call your representatives and demand they support our democracy agenda. 

    What’s in H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act?

    In 2013, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act and set the stage for the rampant increase in voter suppression we’ve seen throughout the country. The original Voting Rights Act of 1965 required states with a record of racial disrimination and voter suppression to submit any change in election procedures for approval in advance before any changes could take place. This approval process was called preclearance. Shelby County eliminated preclearance requirements, allowing states and other election administrators to enact blatant voter suppression without oversight from the federal government. While many of those suppressive tactics can and are challenged after implementation, it’s a lot harder to undo the damage after the fact than it is when discriminatory election laws are prevented from being enacted in the first place.

    H.R. 4, which is named after the late congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, a man who risked his life for the right to vote, would re-establish the preclearance requirements that were thrown out in Shelby County, among other voter protections. It would also require preclearance on a nationwide scale for practices that disproportionately affect communities of color such as:

    • Changing election practices in diverse areas
    • Changing documents required to vote or to register to vote
    • Reducing access based on language 
    • Reducing polling locations in diverse areas

    If turned into law, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act would be a crucial protection against racist voter suppression tactics while strengthening our electoral system as a whole.