Last week, on the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington, 20,000 people marched side by side with Reverend Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III to reclaim civil rights – especially the right to vote. Amid a wave of voter suppression laws in GOP-controlled states, these exhortations that the federal government act on voting rights must be heeded. In particular, they demanded that Congress pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Here’s what the legislation says and why students should heed the words of civil rights leaders and demand that lawmakers pass it by whatever means necessary:
Since the 2020 election, states ruled by Republican trios have passed law after law restricting the right to vote. Many of these laws are only possible thanks to the decision of the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder to void the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Prior to this decision, states with a history of racial discrimination had to seek approval from the US Department of Justice before passing new voting rights laws. The goal, in simple terms, was to prevent states and jurisdictions from passing laws that made it harder for black people to vote. Now that these sections of the law no longer exist, states have much more leeway to pass racist or discriminatory election laws. Since the 2020 election – and the genesis of ex-President Donald Trump’s elaborate fiction that the election was stolen – 18 states have passed laws that limit access to the ballot box in a way that targets Democrats and citizens alike. voters of color.
Politically engaged GW students entering the electorate are much more likely to have the time and inclination to navigate onerous voting restrictions. Students are not necessarily the primary target of these laws – but we should be concerned about them nonetheless. We are an activist student body with the capacity to do what Bill’s namesake John Lewis has called “stir up trouble” to defend the people’s grassroots suffrage.
The bill named after Lewis is the only way to stop these brazen voter suppression efforts. The legislation would update the troubled Voting Rights Act 1965 to once again allow the Justice Department to derail state-level efforts to enact laws that suppress voting. It would be a game changer. Right now, the best voting rights advocates can do to stop voter suppression bills is to rally popular support and develop plans to derail parliamentary procedure. If this bill passes, the federal government will be able to enforce the right to vote – no matter what reactionary state lawmakers who think the 2020 election was stolen are trying to do about it.
But before the law can come into effect to prevent Republicans from suppressing people’s votes, it must win Democrats’ votes in the US Senate. Thanks to the reluctance of Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to change the legislative obstruction, the bill could collapse and burn just as more and more Republican states pass. more and more laws suppressing black and brown votes.
Filing is an obscure and patently ridiculous procedure that should be done away with, but if that cannot happen, one solution is to amend it to allow voting rights laws to be passed by simple majority. Beyond that, there is no way for the narrow Democratic majority in the Senate to pass the legislation on their own. And it would be utterly naïve to expect Republicans to join in on a bill that would limit the ability of their state-level counterparts to cement the political power of the GOP.
GW students, because of our location and inclination for political activism, should care about voting rights and advocate for legislation that protects people’s access to the ballot box. Beyond the important steps of calling senators’ offices and attending protests, students should also heed the words of Sharpton and King and vote for candidates who support democracy and the right to vote whenever a election appears on the calendar. At the very least, it will show its support for those whose voting rights were avoidably stripped. At most, it will help prevent anti-voting lawmakers from being elected in the first place.
Andrew Sugrue, a senior specializing in political communication and political science, is the opinion writer.