Restoring & Protecting Voting Rights in 2021

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Restoring & Protecting Voting Rights in 2021

Categories: News

At YWCA Greater Cleveland, we believe that voting is a non-partisan civic duty. Consequently, we vehemently oppose any voter suppression tactics or policies because an attack on the suffrage of one person or group threatens our collective capacity to speak truth to power and hold elected officials accountable. Quite simply, voter suppression takes power away from the people, thereby compromising the very nature of democracy. At this time, many states are working to pass stricter voting laws that will disproportionately target those whose voices are often ignored: communities of color, the elderly, low-income people, the LGBTQIA+ community, differently-abled people, and others. If passed, these laws will prevent ethical voting practices in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections and will infringe upon one of the most fundamental rights that each citizen of the United States should be capable of exercising, both now and in the future. This proximate threat emphasizes the need for immediate legal protection for voting rights for everyone, particularly for those in marginalized communities.

Voter suppression is as old as voting itself; there are always those in power who have sought to restrict the voice and rights of others. Last November featured various forms of voter suppression, including discouraging the use of mail-in ballots, strict standards for ballot completion, postal service delays, laws requiring photo ID to vote, limiting the early voting period, mass purges of voter rolls, and the removal of polling locations, all of which worked to limit citizens’ ability to cast their vote. Expectedly, these voting restrictions impacted a disproportionate number of people of color and other marginalized groups, which legitimizes the urgency for suffrage protection. 

The U.S. House of Representatives will likely vote on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (JLVRAA) in the late summer or early fall of 2021. Named for the late-civil rights activist and congressman, the bill would restore the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that provided federal oversight over voting law changes in states with a history of discriminatory practices. The JLVRAA aims to redetermine which states and locations have demonstrated discrimination, terminate last-minute voting changes, and send federal observers to watch over election procedures at places where there is a risk of voter intimidation.

As we approach Juneteenth–a day of celebrating the emancipation of American slaves–we are reminded that not everyone truly enjoys all of the rights and freedoms that all United States citizens should possess. Black and brown communities continually face systemic barriers in all societal areas, and these voter suppression tactics and other forms of disenfranchisement are further evidence of such oppression. We must combat these injustices, and the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is one important step in that direction. We urge you to learn more about this bill and contact your representatives to push them to pass this bill. We must use our voices and demand that the democratic rights we may take for granted should be available, accessible, and exercisable for all U.S. citizens.


NOTES:

THE FACTS

Both the Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act are currently trying to be passed through congress. 

The For the People Act is heading towards a potential fight in the Senate and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act has not yet made it through the House. There will need to be at least 10 Republican senators to vote ‘yes’ for either piece of legislation. 

Both of these pieces of legislation support the ongoing fight against voter suppression and the protection of people of color during the voting process.

In the last election, we saw several forms of voter suppression including mail-in ballots, the removal of ballot boxes, and restricted voting times. As new legislation passes that threatens the further suppression of financially unstable and voters of color, these bills are of the utmost importance.

FOR THE PEOPLE ACT

H.R. 1, For the People Act, aims to protect voters’ rights, strengthen election security, mandate independent redistricting, and more. While all states have varying voting laws, this would allow the expansion of early voting, allow same-day voter registration, automatic registration for federal elections, and lower identification requirements for all 50 states. 

Other important parts of this act would be to have electronic voter registrations as well as the ability for previously incarcerated people to vote once they have completed their sentences. It would also restrict purges of voter rolls by states that civil rights groups say disproportionately affect financially unstable and residents of color. This was originally protected in the 1965 Voter Rights Act but was later thrown out by Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. 

This bill would also expand access to absentee and mail-in voting for voters. It would lessen the influence of gerrymandering and require states to establish a bipartisan independent commission to redraw their congressional districts every 10 years.

JOHN LEWIS VOTING RIGHTS ADVANCEMENT ACT

This bill would restore the provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were removed in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013.

It aims to require jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression of minorities to obtain pre-approval from the Justice Department before making any changes to their election process. This revised bill pushes for oversight over voting law changes in states with a history of discriminatory practices. These previously included eight Southern states plus Alaska. 

There are reports that the bill will likely be taken to the house in September.

With the many claims of fraud after last year’s election and the large increase in mail-in voting due to the COID-19 pandemic, the need for new voting rights laws to be enacted is more important than ever before.