Voting rights are and have been under attack since 2013. After the whirlwind that was the 2020 election, many were left feeling that voting rights need to be restored, now more than ever.
Below, you will find some history and also ways that YOU can take action to restore voting rights through the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
During the nearly century-long Jim Crow era, intimidation, violence, literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and other tools were used to prevent voting for minority populations in the South.
1788: Voting Left to States
The U.S. Constitution is adopted on this date, but in lieu of a federal requirement, it grants states the power to establish standards for voting rights. As a result, mostly white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males, who own property and are older than 21, are the only group allowed to vote. Article II establishes the Electoral College.
July 9, 1868: Citizenship Granted to All US-Born and Naturalized
Following the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery, the 14th Amendment is ratified, granting citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” and “equal protection under the laws,” including formerly enslaved people.
February 3, 1870: Black Men Granted the Right to Vote
The 15th Amendment is ratified, granting Black men the right to vote and Congress the power to enforce the right. However, laws, including poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses, are enacted in mostly Southern states, suppressing Black voting rights until 1965.
June 2, 1924: Native Americans Granted the Right to Vote
Congress enacts the Indian Citizenship Act, granting the right to vote to Native Americans born in the United States. Despite its passage, some states continue to bar Native Americans from voting.
1943 Chinese Exclusion Act ends
In the wake of World War II when the United States and China had operated as allies, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which had barred Chinese from becoming citizens since 1882, is finally repealed. Chinese immigrants and their American-born families become the first Asian Americans eligible to naturalize and gain citizenship—and vote.
January 23, 1964: Poll Taxes Banned
The 24th Amendment is ratified, prohibiting the use of poll taxes in federal elections. “There can be no one too poor to vote,” President Lyndon Johnson says during a ceremony announcing the amendment.
August 6, 1965: Voting Rights Act
President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law, banning literacy tests and enforcing the 15th Amendment on a federal level. It also provides for federal examiners who can register voters in certain jurisdictions. Facing a flurry of legal challenges, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds its constitutionality in a number of rulings from 1965-1969. In 1970, Section 5 is extended for five years.
July 1, 1971: 18 and Up Can Vote
The 26th Amendment is signed by President Richard Nixon, granting the right to vote to U.S. citizens who are 18 or older. Prohibiting discrimination based on age, it lowers the age from 21, largely in reaction to the number of 18-20-year-olds fighting in Vietnam.
August 6, 1975: Rights for Non-English-Speaking Voters
In addition to establishing a permanent ban on literacy tests and other discriminatory voting requirements, amendments to the Voting Rights Act are signed into law by President Gerald Ford requiring districts with significant numbers of non-English-speaking voters to be provided with instructions or assistance in registering and voting.
September 28, 1984: Voting Is Made Accessible
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 is signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, requiring polling places in federal elections to be accessible for people with disabilities and the elder. It also states that if no accessible location is available, an alternative way to vote on Election Day must be offered.
October 29, 2002: Help America Vote Act
Enacting sweeping voting process reform, President George W. Bush signs Help America Vote Act, mandating that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission improve and certify voting equipment, maintain the National Voter Registration form and administer a national elections clearinghouse with shared practices, among other items. It provides states with funds to meet the new standards and provisions.
June 25, 2013: Voting Rights Act Walked Back
In Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, rules that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional, holding that the constraints placed on certain states and federal review of states’ voting procedures, known as preclearance, are outdated. Seen as a blow to civil rights activists, since the ruling, which affected nine states and several counties and townships, a federal commission found at least 23 states had enacted “newly restrictive statewide voter laws.” These include polling place closures, voter ID laws, limiting early voting, and more. The Supreme Court then left this up to Congress to write new criteria.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, in which they ruled that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional and outdated, states have boldly pushed forward discriminatory changes to voting practices- changing district boundaries to disadvantage select voters, instituting more voter identification laws, and changing polling locations with little notice.
These laws especially disenfranchise people of color, the elderly, low-income people, transgender people, and people with disabilities. Voters are more vulnerable to discrimination now than at any time since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law more than fifty years ago.
What would it do?
It serves to fix the gap left by the Supreme Court by introducing new criteria that will address modern discrimination tactics like poll closures, etc. The bill also ensures that any changes to voting rules that could discriminate against voters based on race or background are federally reviewed, giving voters an equal voice nationwide.
Additionally, it would:
- Increase transparency by requiring reasonable public notice for changes to voting policies and rules.
- Grant a states Attorney General the authority to request the presence of federal observers where there is a serious threat of racial discrimination in voting.
- Implement best practices and require federal approval for policies that impact the ability to cast a ballot or register to vote, the availability of language assistance, or redistricting.
Where is it now?
The newest piece of legislation on voting rights is the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) on August 17, 2021, and passed the House on August 24, 2021, by a vote of 219-212. The bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on October 5, 2021.
Want to take action against voter suppression?
We encourage you to email and call your legislators urging them to vote for the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
(Use this call list for your Senator’s number)
Hello, my name is [insert your name]. I’m a constituent from [insert your state], zip code [insert your zip code]. I am calling to ask you to support the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Across the country, we are seeing state legislatures pass voter suppression laws that limit access to voting, impose harsh voter ID laws, reduce polling place availability, and make it difficult to cast absentee ballots.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act responds to these current conditions in voting by restoring the full protections of the original, bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.
The ability for everyone to meaningfully participate in our democracy and the need for your action is urgent. The Senate needs to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act now.
We know that politicians are active on Twitter, so let’s make them see our support for the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act!
- The Senate MUST pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Black Americans from restrictive voting laws. #PasstheJohnLewisVotingRightsAct
- Our democracy is under attack. The American people deserve voting rights that protect the sanctity of ALL to practice this right. #PasstheJohnLewisVotingRightsAct #VotingRightsAct
- The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act MUST be passed now. Marginalized communities are suffering from inaction. #PasstheJohnLewisVotingRightsAct
- @Sen_JoeManchin @SenatorSinema, we need you to protect our democracy. Upholding the filibuster is not as important as the impact of voter suppression. #PasstheJohnLewisVotingRightsAct