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In February 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. penned a letter from a Selma, Alabama, jail, which was revealed as a quarter-page advert in The New York Instances. In it, he wrote:

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“Have you ever ever been required to reply 100 questions on authorities … merely to vote?  Have you ever ever stood according to over 100 others and, after ready a complete day, seen lower than ten given the qualifying take a look at?


The New York Instances, February 5, 1965

Six months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which consultants take into account the best piece of civil rights laws ever enacted. Sixty years later, that regulation—which registered tens of millions of voters and enfranchised traditionally marginalized communities who, in flip, elected extra various representatives—has been systematically gutted and bought for elements.

A number of notable court docket choices weakened enforcement measures of the regulation, together with a 2013 go well with (Shelby County v. Holder) and one other in 2021 (Brnovich v. Democratic Nationwide Committee). Final 12 months noticed the newest assault towards the regulation: An Arkansas ruling in 2023 declared that residents do not need the precise to file lawsuits imposing the Voting Rights Act and that instances as a substitute need to be introduced by the federal authorities. In complete, 19 states have handed voter suppression legal guidelines since 2020, and greater than 400 related payments have been launched in 49 states. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act, proposed laws that will restore and shield voting rights, is known as for civil rights activist (and King’s pal and frequent collaborator) U.S. Rep. John Lewis. If handed, it could modernize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, safeguarding the democratic course of. Right here’s what it’s, the way it impacts us all and why it issues for the outside.

A group of cyclists meet up for a ride in Atlanta.
Picture credit score: Dustin Kingman

What’s the John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act?

The John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act protects everybody’s proper to vote, prevents discrimination on the polls and calls for higher transparency within the voting course of. It builds upon the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in three key methods: 

  • Make the voting course of accessible. The act goals to cut back voting obstacles by requiring all states to supply same-day registration and at the least two weeks of early voting. Presently, 22 states permit election-day registration (plus North Dakota, the place registration isn’t required), and 47 provide early voting. The laws would additionally require officers to publicly announce all voting adjustments at the least 180 days earlier than an election. 
  • Cut back discriminatory voting laws. The John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act restores the observe of preclearance, the place states or localities with a historical past of discrimination (like requiring literacy checks or having traditionally low voter registration numbers) need to preapprove adjustments to voting legal guidelines or practices on the federal degree. It additionally seeks to make some varieties of voting adjustments topic to preclearance nationwide, like redistricting minority-heavy neighborhoods or lowering non-English voting supplies. 
  • Allow voters to take authorized motion. The proposed Development Act makes it simpler for voters to convey forth—and win—lawsuits towards discriminatory insurance policies reminiscent of gerrymandering (altering electoral districts earlier than an election with the intention to profit one get together over the opposite) or legal guidelines requiring picture IDs with the intention to vote, which disproportionately have an effect on marginalized communities and scale back voter turnout. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act handed within the Home however failed within the Senate in 2021; it was reintroduced within the 118th Congress in September 2023.

Two people repair a trail wearing WTA hardhats.
Picture credit score: Hannah Shea

How does the John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act have an effect on us all?

The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 resulted in a major improve in voter registration—inside months, a quarter of one million Black voters had been registered, and total voter turnout elevated by as a lot as 19 proportion factors. Past people exercising their proper to vote, the Voting Rights Act led to shifts in insurance policies (like elevated funding for public colleges) due to extra correct and various illustration of the inhabitants. It additionally resulted in shifts to total get together ideologies—shifts that mirrored the needs of U.S. residents. 

In different phrases, the continued erosion of the Voting Rights Act doesn’t simply threaten voter turnout—it undermines our march towards a very consultant democracy. For the reason that 2013 Shelby County resolution weakened the act’s enforcement measures, communities have seen the removing of polling locations on school campuses, a purge of voters from the rolls with out warning, intense partisan gerrymandering and voter ID legal guidelines that make voting harder for a lot of. When People can’t vote, our nation fails to replicate residents’ values and elected leaders usually don’t share residents’ issues.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act combats makes an attempt to disenfranchise all folks, particularly communities of coloration, the aged, low-income people and the LGBTQ+ group. As Human Rights Marketing campaign president Kelley Robinson emphasised in a press release supporting the act, “The muse of our democracy rests on ensuring that everybody—everybody—has entry to the poll field.”

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Picture credit score: James Harnois

How does the John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act have an effect on the outside?

Nearly all of locations the place People recreate are public, that means they’re created, managed and ruled by public businesses and funded with public {dollars}, says REI Cooperative Motion Community supervisor Alicia Harvie. Solely those that vote can elect representatives who will fund these businesses and prioritize the problems going through outside areas and communities.

It’s not simply representatives on the poll, both: Points associated to the outside are sometimes put to public measure. In any given 12 months, voters might instantly approve billions of {dollars} in park funding, path infrastructure and climate-related insurance policies that have an effect on the well being of our lands, waters and extra. By voting, we’re letting our representatives know what we care about—and the type of world we need to dwell in.

That may’t occur if People are denied the precise to vote. Each election is an opportunity for a greater world and a more healthy setting—however provided that that election is free and honest.

The REI Cooperative Motion Community is a civic engagement program that gives members within the co-op group with simple and fast methods to find out about and lift their voice in favor of insurance policies that affect the outside. “The Cooperative Motion Community has a proud legacy of talking up in assist of voting rights and free, honest and safe elections,” says Harvie. REI has publicly supported the John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act because it was first launched within the U.S. Home of Representatives. The co-op additionally stands behind the Freedom to Vote Act, a complete invoice to safeguard the integrity of our elections by setting nationwide requirements for voting rights and election administration that shield towards voter suppression, gerrymandering, election subversion and extra. Collectively, these payments would offer a one-two punch of restoring the precise to vote for all People and defending America’s election infrastructure. The concept of “one individual, one vote” is as foundational to any co-op as it’s to democracy. 

Utilizing our voices, we are able to make our communities and the areas we recreate a mirrored image of our values. The passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Development Act, along with the Freedom to Vote Act, would safeguard that splendid, permitting residents to form insurance policies and struggle for a greater world, now and into the longer term.

Don’t await an election to train your voice.

Message your representatives now through, urging them to guard our proper to vote at present.



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