Stabenow, Peters Reintroduce Bipartisan Voting Rights Advancement Act to Rename After Congressman John Lewis

Bill Renamed Following Passing of Civil Rights Icon, Would Restore Protections in Voting Rights Act of 1965

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (MI) and Debbie Stabenow (MI) today helped reintroduce bipartisan legislation to strengthen voter protections that the late Representative John Lewis (GA-05) and other civil rights leaders fought to secure within the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, renamed after the Civil Rights icon, is in response to a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that weakened federal voting protections in jurisdictions that have a history of voter suppression. Peters and Stabenow have both previously cosponsored the Voting Rights Advancement Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not allowed a Senate vote on the Voting Rights Advancement Act that the U.S. House of Representatives passed 229 days ago.


“Congressman John Lewis was one of our nation’s great moral leaders and a dear friend. Time and time again, he put his life on the line in order to protect people’s fundamental rights, including the right to vote,” said Senator Stabenow. “The Voting Rights Advancement Act has been sitting on Senator McConnell’s desk for 229 days. One of the first things we can do to honor the legacy of John Lewis is rename this bill after him. The Senate should bring this bill up for a vote immediately to restore the voting protections that Congressman Lewis fought for throughout his life.”


“Each generation has the responsibility to ensure that all Americans – no matter who you are or where you live – have their voices heard at the ballot box,” said Senator Peters. “We must pay tribute to Congressman John Lewis, an American hero and civil rights icon, not only with words but action. To honor Congressman Lewis’ life work and legacy, we must start by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, restore voting rights and ensure Americans can exercise their constitutional right to vote. It’s past time for Leader McConnell hold a vote on this bill.”


Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many states and local governments used tactics aimed at discrimination and suppressing the vote. These tactics included reductions in polling locations in areas that are racially, ethnically, or linguistically diverse, reductions in language assistance and changes in documentation or requirements to vote or register. Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 established a formula to identify state and local governments that used these tactics and were subject to pre-clearance requiring federal approval before implementing any electoral changes.


Congress last reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 with strong bipartisan support, but the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the historic legislation by eliminating Section 4 (b), one of the most important protections in the law—the previous preclearance formula. As a result of the Supreme Court decision, states across the county passed voter suppression laws that disproportionately prevent minorities, the elderly and young people from casting a ballot.


The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would create a new pre-clearance formula for state and local governments and examine repeated voting rights violations over a period of 25 years. This 25-year review period continuously rolls so that only states with a recent history of discrimination are required to submit changes to election laws for preclearance. Preclearance would apply to states that have a history of violations within the review period. States with 15 violations at any level of jurisdiction, states with 10 violations including one statewide violation, or any political subdivision with three or more violations are subject to preclearance. Additionally, states using known practices historically used to discriminate against voters would have to meet the preclearance requirement. Known discriminatory practices include consolidating or relocating polling locations, reducing access to multilingual voting materials, redistricting or changing a jurisdiction’s borders in areas that are racially, ethnically or linguistically diverse, and changing documents or other requirements to register or vote. The state of Michigan would not be immediately subject to statewide preclearance under the new formula. 


The legislation has the support of a number organizations, including the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR), National Action Network and the ACLU.