Voting is at the cornerstone of all civic and public policy change. The polls are the place where people make their voices heard and have a unique power to keep elected officials accountable for their promises and actions. Without fair and easy access, the will of the people that elected officials represent goes ignored or silenced. It is paramount to a healthy and secure democracy that voting and engagement in civic processes are accessible and encouraged. Voting is a right, and we should not have to overcome obstacles to exercise that right. That is why we need the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The plight of voting rights has a long history, beginning at the very outset of the United States. But with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the federal government not only outlawed race discrimination in voting, but also set a structure for monitoring it and a standard for equal voting rights and representation. However, this landmark piece of legislation was not the end of voter suppression that disproportionately targets people of color, the elderly, people with disabilities, and young folks. For decades, attempts at furthering the inequities in voter accessibility never disappeared, but only became more insidious. In 2013, a watershed moment occurred: The Supreme Court eliminated the VRA’s coverage formula in their Shelby County v. Holder decision. With the rise in voter suppression since Shelby County v. Holder gutted the VRA, measures like the ones the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act proposes are crucial to restoring these protections.
The ongoing struggle for voting rights in the U.S. has largely been carried forward by young people. Social justice activists from every generation have fought valiantly throughout our nation’s history to ensure that access to the ballot box, one of the most sacred places in America, is unfettered. Today, as youth and minority voters have continually shown up to the polls and engaged in the democratic process in unprecedented numbers, they are being met with severe backlash and retaliatory efforts to suppress their power and their movement. In fact, since the 2020 Election and as of October 4, 2021, 425 restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 49 states.
Perhaps the most powerful tool to protect our democracy, ensure voting freedoms, and expand access to the ballot box lies in Congress’s ability to pass sweeping legislation such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. By reinstating the VRA’s coverage formula and reactivating its preclearance provision, a process that ensures that any changes to voting rules that could discriminate against voters based on race or background are federally reviewed, we can all have an equal say in our future. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was passed in the House on August 24, 2021, and was introduced in the Senate on October 5, where it is likely to face an uphill battle.
The legacy of civil rights heroes like John Lewis and Andrew Goodman lives on not only through major legislative reforms such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but also through the everyday, grassroots work of young folks across the country. The Andrew Goodman Foundation works tirelessly to protect the youth vote by empowering and supporting students and young people alike. We understand that the capacity for young people to create broader social change is vast and that providing support to these movements has never been more important and influential. The impacts of the organizing that young people do are profound and can be seen in countless examples. The legacy of late Congressman John Lewis, a former Andrew Goodman Advisory Board member, lives on in the students across the nation working to tackle strict voter ID laws that make it difficult or nearly impossible for young people to cast their ballot. It is demonstrated in the students working tirelessly to secure centralized polling locations to make voting more accessible on campus. And it shines in the monumental registration and get out the vote efforts that have come to define what it means to be a young activist in the voting rights space.
The work on the ground by students is simply one way to honor Congressman John Lewis’ legacy. The fight is far from over and the potential for an equitable democracy free of racial discrimination is immense. Your capacity to create change is boundless, and we each have an important role to play in securing a future we can be proud of. You can begin making an impact by contacting your elected officials and telling the Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act!
About the Author
Kaylee Valencia is the Program Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. Kaylee is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.