As the nation celebrated and memorialized Rep. John Lewis' life this week, nearly every eulogy and commentary mentioned the Voting Rights Act. The House on Monday voted to rename H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, to the John Lewis Voting Right Act. No other American is as closely associated with the fight to protect voting rights than Lewis.
His death has shined an even brighter spotlight on the urgency to safeguard voting, which given the current political climate has never been more in doubt. More than 50 years after Congress passed the initial Voting Rights Act passed, Americans in neighborhoods across the country are still denied access to voting.
The landmark Voting Rights Act outlawed racially discriminatory barriers to voting. However a 2013 Supreme Court ruling struck down an important provision, Section 5, that would have allowed the federal government to create election laws in states with a history of voter discrimination. This paved the way for those and other states to enact voter suppression laws, such as voter ID.
Georgia voters this month faced faulty voting machines, long lines, and extended wait times to cast their ballots during their state's primary. The state had closed hundreds of polling places. If Section 5 was still intact, Georgia would have been required to clear its voting changes before enacting them.
H.R. 4 would restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that Supreme Court struck down. It passed the House, but sits dead in the Senate.
With Trump sinking lower in the polls, the GOP will ramp up their voter suppression efforts. There will be numerous barriers to voting this year, including Trump's disinformation campaign that voting by mail is not safe.
"I was beaten, my skull was fractured, and I was arrested more than 40 times so each and every one of us can register to vote. Do your part," Lewis said.
John Lewis will not be able to finish his fight for voting rights. It now becomes our battle.
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