In a noteworthy first-step towards nationwide voting reform — and ideally, an end to some of the racist anti-voting policies recently approved on the state level by governors in Florida, Georgia and other Republican strongholds — the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act on Tuesday, Aug. 24.
Dartunorro Clark of NBC News reported that the sweeping voting rights bill, named after the late civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, was approved in a narrow vote of 219 to 212, with all House Republicans voting against the legislation.
“The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia,” Clark said. “However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.”
The House vote on the John Lewis Act followed procedural motions connected to another major Democratic issue: President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget package. Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama reintroduced to the House floor last week, and following the congressional debate, House leaders were able to call a vote.
According to Clark, if passed by the Senate, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act “would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal ‘preclearance’ to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.”
In a statement released last week ahead of the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that passing the act was “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate [for Congress] but a moral responsibility.”
Speaking again on the House floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Pelosi said the bill would also honor Lewis’ legacy and was the right thing for all members of the House to agree on and approve.
“We should have the right to vote, and it shouldn’t be diminished by anyone,” she said. “It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls. As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”
In addition to passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the House also attempted to regulate the nation’s election laws through improved campaign finance, voting and ethics laws in March 2021 with the passage of the For the People Act.
According to Clark, that bill “would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.”
Sadly, it never made it to the Senate floor for a full vote. All 50 Democrats in the Senate voted to debate the bill, while the 50 Republican Senators filibustered the motion. Without the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster, the For the People Act remains in Congressional limbo and may never get the chance to be voted on or approved.