• The Voter Formation Project

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: The Return

Hey y’all! Good to see you again. Last week, we wrapped up our series on barriers to voting access (which you should *absolutely* go and read right now if you haven’t already!), and this week, we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming.


You may have heard some talk about the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act this week.


(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)


On Tuesday, lawmakers gathered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where John Lewis famously marched, and was subsequently arrested and beaten, for civil rights, including the right to vote, 56 years ago. And they weren’t just there to pay tribute to Congressman Lewis: they were there to announce the introduction of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) in Congress.


So, What is It?

You might already know about the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, because a previous version of the bill passed in the House in 2019 before dying in the Senate (and because you’re a loyal reader and we’ve talked about it on the blog before). The latest, beefed up version of the bill, as introduced on Tuesday, aims to restore the Voting Rights Act through what’s been described as “preclearance on steroids”.


the new version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act has been described as "preclearance on steroids"

Preclearance, as required under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, required states with a history of racist election practices to “preclear” any changes in election law with the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act with their decision in Shelby v. Holder, removing the preclearance requirement.


The new version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act imposes preclearance (for at least 10 years!) on states or localities, regardless of their racist histories or lack thereof, that have committed violations of voting rights in the last 25 years. The bill also requires every state to preclear more sweeping changes to elections law, including laws that would affect the voting access of racial or language minority groups, laws that would reduce polling place access, and voter ID laws.


The new John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act also seeks to undo some of the damage done by Brnovich v. DNC (2021), which weakened Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, making it more difficult to challenge policies that lead to voter discrimination.


What's Next?

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is expected to see a vote in the House next week, where it is likely to pass. From there, it will move to the Senate, where it has seen some bipartisan support, led by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). In order to pass the Senate, the bill will need 60 votes-- that’s support from all 50 Democratic senators, and 10 Republicans.


Of course, that's not all. You might know that we at VFP are *BIG* fans of another bill, the For the People Act. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, while monumental and absolutely critical to the health of our democracy, isn’t a substitute for the sweeping (and necessary) reforms that the For the People Act would make. So yes, we’re rooting for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act with all we have, but we’re also going to continue rooting for the passage For the People Act every chance we get: America needs both.


Thanks for reading, y’all! Talk soon.


“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” – James Baldwin