Obama Issues Urgent Pleas To Stand Up Strong For Voting Rights

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This week, former President Barack Obama publicly issued an urgent call to action regarding the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. On Tuesday, the House passed the bill, and on Wednesday, Obama urged Americans to call their Senators to advocate for the legislation while it now awaits further action. Although the Senate’s filibuster rules — which demand the agreement of at least 60 Senators in the 100-member chamber before moving forward on most bills — make action difficult, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already indicated that he’s intent on pressing onward anyway.

Obama commented as follows:

‘Yesterday, the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that will help Americans everywhere make their voices heard. Now the Senate needs to follow the House’s lead. Call your Senators and ask them to do the right thing. Our democracy is on the line.’

In the past, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has supported the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, so there could be at least some interest among more moderate Republicans in backing the legislation this time around. If successfully passed and signed into law, the bill would re-establish a requirement by federal authorities for the approval of certain changes to the conducting of elections prior to those changes’ implementation, with the hope of stopping at least some instances of voter suppression before they start. Such a rule was included in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but the U.S. Supreme Court set those provisions of the Act aside in a 2013 ruling. When the rule was in place, Attorney General Merrick Garland recently explained that federal officials were able to stop “thousands” of discriminatory election-related moves by local authorities.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act could help address the recent wave of efforts by Republicans in positions of state-level leadership to put suppressive new election restrictions in place. Although the law is already enacted, in Georgia, state authorities recently imposed sharp limits on the numbers of drop boxes for mail-in ballots that individual counties can have, and these are exactly the kinds of things that can have tangible effects on the ability of voters to cast their ballots. The new Georgia rule mandates that counties have no more than one drop box for every early voting site or for every 100,000 active registered voters, whichever figure is smaller — and these provisions could force Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, to go from the 38 drop boxes it had last year to just eight in future elections.