On August 17, 2021, Rep. Sewell (D-AL), along with 191 cosponsors, reintroduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to combat voter suppression and increase access to voting. Catalyst, along with our charitable sector colleagues across the country, supports this important legislation that updates and strengthens the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) by requiring jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to seek approval from the Department of Justice before changing any voting rules. We encourage you to join us by signing on to a letter from the charitable sector asking Congress to make the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act a priority in 2022.
One of the main tenets of the VRA was undermined in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision. The Court determined that the coverage formula in the VRA was unconstitutional. Before Shelby, states determined by the VRA coverage formula as having a pattern of discrimination were required to submit any proposed voting procedure changes (before they went into effect) to the United States Department of Justice or a federal district court in Washington DC to ensure the changes did not unfairly affect minority voters. The Shelby decision rendered that preclearance provision moot. Since that decision, states have been free to make any voting procedure changes with no oversight, which many states have done—including voter roll purges, identification requirements, polling place closures/reductions, minimizing early voting periods/locations, etc.
Although the court determined that the formula created by the VRA was unconstitutional because it was relying upon old data, it did not determine that having a formula was unconstitutional, paving the way for legislation to update how states could be chosen to require oversight based on prior voter discrimination.
WHAT THE VOTING RIGHTS ADVANCEMENT ACT DOES
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act:
- Updates the 1965 Voting Rights Act formula by determining which states would be subject to oversight based on previous patterns of discrimination and voter suppression:
- 15 or more voting rights violations in 25 years would subject a state to oversight.
- 10 or more voting rights violations in 25 years (with at least 1 of those violations committed by the state) would be subject to oversight.
- Any subdivision in a state with 3 or more voting rights violations in 25 years would be subject to oversight.
- Requires election officials to publicly announce all voting changes at least 180 days before an election
- Expands the government’s authority to send federal observers to any jurisdiction where there may be a substantial risk of discrimination during voting periods
The well-being of our communities is tied to our ability to participate in our democracy by casting votes that reflect our individual values and priorities. Restrictive voting laws across the country have made access to that right increasingly difficult for voters of color since the Shelby decision. Join us and other philanthropic and philanthropy-serving organizations across the country in supporting legislation that strengthens our democracy and takes a necessary step towards eliminating voting rights injustices.
The above is an example of what is referred to as administrative advocacy, a way to extend your influence to further achieve your mission. When nonprofits influence how existing laws are implemented, they are engaging in advocacy, but not lobbying. Are you a foundation or funder looking to better understand the rules of advocacy? We recommend visiting Bolder Advocacy, who host a treasure trove of resources that can help you and your board better understand the ins and outs of nonprofit and foundation advocacy.