Written by Alexis Barton
The Senate has recently been in debate regarding a critical piece of voting rights legislation, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. The original two bills, which have now been consolidated, sought to expand the existing legislation related to voting rights and would make it easier for citizens to vote, while also making it more challenging for state governments to make changes and create regulations related to voting. Both pieces of legislation were passed in the House of Representatives, but were struck down in the Senate on a nearly-partisan level. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) were the two democrats who broke party ranks to oppose the legislation. Aspects from both original pieces of legislation were combined to create the current proposed bill.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the former congressman who fought alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for civil rights, is geared to counteract a 2013 Supreme Court case. According to NPR’s Brian Naylor (2022), the legislation would make it more difficult for states with a history of voter suppression and discrimination, such as Lewis’ home state of Georgia, to make changes related to voting procedures and laws. This includes changing polling place locations, requiring voter identification, and other similar practices.
The Freedom to Vote Act shares the same goal of making voting easier and more accessible, but has a different path in terms of its execution. This legislation would make election day a national holiday, would allow states to hold early voting leading up to election day, and would allow states to expand absentee and mail-in voting methods. This legislation is of particular interest following the 2020 election, where nearly 70% of all voters used mail-in or absentee methods.
Democratic leadership will now be forced to regroup as they work on creating a bipartisan majority to pass this legislation.