Americans rightfully view the right to vote as an integral part of our democracy. Without free and fair elections, our representative democracy could not exist. Unfortunately, voting rights in the United States have a long history of being far from equal.
Women did not get the right to vote until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. And it wasn’t until 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, just 56 years ago, that Black Americans were universally afforded the right to vote. Up until that point, unduly restrictive voting laws that targeted Black Americans prevented many from exercising their right to vote.
For decades, the Voting Rights Act helped protect against voter suppression laws. One of the main ways in which the Voting Rights Act accomplished this was through the process of preclearance. This provision of the law required certain states with a history of racial discrimination and voter suppression to get preclearance from the Department of Justice, or the courts, before any newly restrictive voting laws could be passed. The law was effectively able to block discriminatory voting laws before they were able to be passed. This process of vetting laws to ensure that they were not discriminatory was one of the most powerful tools to prevent racially targeted voter suppression.
Unfortunately, in 2013, a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder effectively nullified the preclearance requirement. The court decided that the formula used to identify which states were required to undergo preclearance was outdated and therefore the preclearance requirement was no longer enforceable.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up the illogical decision to get rid of the preclearance requirement. She wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” And preclearance was working. In 2012, just a year before the Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Department of Justice blocked 17 changes to election laws.
Almost immediately after the Shelby County v. Holder decision, voter suppression laws began to be introduced and have continued to be passed across the country.
But the fight is not over. The Court’s decision means that Congress can write a new law that would update the formula that determined which states and localities would be subject to the preclearance requirement. That’s exactly what the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would do.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) would update the preclearance formula and restore the Voting Rights Act’s most powerful tool to combat voter suppression.
Passing the VRAA would help ensure that all Americans have their voting rights protected, while having equal and fair access to the ballot box. States with a recent history of violating voting rights will need to receive preclearance from the Department of Justice, or the courts, before changing their voting laws. This bill seeks to protect and enhance the right to vote for all Americans.
The VRAA is common sense legislation that should have bipartisan support. Stand Up Republic supports the VRAA and calls on Congress to introduce and pass the bill with no delay.