U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and House Democratic Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) have introduced a bill to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act aims to address the weakening of the 1965 law by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under this proposed legislation, jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination would need approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court before changing their voting laws to ensure that the changes are not discriminatory. Additionally, the bill would make it easier for voters to challenge discriminatory voting laws in court.
Dr. Jennifer Jones, director of the Center for Science and Democracy (CSD) at the Union of Concerned Scientists, emphasizes the importance of this legislation. She highlights that in the decade since the Supreme Court’s Shelby ruling, at least 29 states have passed laws that make it harder for people to vote. These laws disproportionately affect Black, Latino, Asian, and Native voters. Measures such as reducing polling places and absentee voting opportunities in areas with large minority populations, limiting access to multilingual voting materials, and facilitating the removal of voters from registration lists have had a discriminatory impact.
Dr. Jones argues that the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is necessary because these state laws are taking us back to a time when voting was a privilege determined by race and social status. Such exclusions are detrimental to the public interest because decisions made in the absence of diverse voices are not truly representative or equitable. She also emphasizes that the health of a democracy is connected to the health of a country and its people.
The Center for Science and Democracy’s report, titled “Our Unhealthy Democracy,” delves further into how attacks on voting rights undermine public health, providing additional resources on this topic.