Black Congress Members Work To Prioritize Voting Rights

As hundreds of restrictive voting bills are introduced into state legislatures around the country, Black members of Congress are calling for voting rights to be prioritized. 

Last month, the House passed H.R.1, a large election reform measure, but it has yet to gain unified support among Democrats in the Senate. Now, a group of Black Democrats are working to get a voting rights bill, named after the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, passed ahead of the midterm election season. 

“I certainly think our focus ought to be on [the Lewis bill] and voting rights,” Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland told Politico. “You would think that that would provide a real good opportunity for a handful of Democratic senators who want to hold onto the filibuster [to say] ‘Yes, we can do it on this John Lewis Voting Rights [Act],’” Brown, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus added. 

The protection of voting rights is urgent as states like Georgia, Florida, and Texas move swiftly to impose new election restrictions, and redistricting data comes in over the summer. 

The voting rights bill named after Lewis would reinstate key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that make some states have to submit redrawn electoral maps pre-approved to ensure racial discrimination is not present in the redistricting. 

In 2013, the Supreme Court eliminated those protections, allowing states to change their election laws without federal oversight. 

“If you want to play into [Republican] hands, you do nothing at all and let them pass redistricting maps that absolutely don’t have to be pre-cleared where they can do whatever… they please, and they can discriminate at will. Or, you step up your game and you do what needs to be done,” Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas told the outlet. Black members of Congress are pushing to have a bill on President Joe Biden’s desk by September before states implement new electoral maps. 

Sen. Raphael Warnock testified during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights last week, urging colleagues to get the measures passed, and condemning his home state’s election law that imposes restrictions likened to Jim Crow era laws. 

While the urgency to get the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed before electoral maps are drawn is pressing, some lawmakers, like Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty still want H.R. 1 passed, too. 

First-term Rep. Mondaire Jones called the passage of H.R.1 “of foundational importance.” “It is democracy-saving legislation,” he added. 

While the race to get legislation passed and voted on, voting rights advocacy groups continue to push for non-discriminatory protections and help voters gain better access to the ballot, even as new restrictions threaten turnout. 

Photo: Getty Images

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