Policy Explainer: John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

Last updated on July 29, 2021

There’s a lot happening when it comes to voting rights legislation, and Vote.org is here to answer your questions about polices and updates. We’ve already covered the For the People Act (S.1) and D.C. Statehood (H.R. 51). Up next: The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4).

What’s the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act?

Known as H.R. 4 in the House of Representatives, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is a bill designed to restore the original Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

Some context: The VRA is made up of several sections, all prohibiting racial discrimination in elections. Section 5 of the VRA established a policy for preclearance, a checks-and-balances type of process that required states and jurisdictions with proven records of discrimination to clear any changes to their voting practices with the U.S. Department of Justice. This meant states that imposed Jim Crow-style discriminatory poll taxes and literacy tests would no longer be able to do so. This process was effective for nearly 50 years until the Supreme Court declared in Shelby County v. Holder that the preclearance process was outdated.

Eight years after the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision, Section 5 is still technically on the books — but states and jurisdictions no longer have to abide by it. This means there is little to no federal oversight in states and jurisdictions with records of discrimination, and states no longer have to certify that their voting practices are equitable and fair for all voters.

So what will the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act do?

H.R. 4 fixes the gap left by the Supreme Court by introducing a new preclearance formula that addresses modern discrimination tactics like poll closures, etc. The bill also ensures that any changes to voting rules that could discriminate against voters based on race or background are federally reviewed, giving voters an equal voice nationwide.

Additionally, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act includes provisions to:

  • Increase transparency by requiring reasonable public notice for changes to voting policies and rules.
  • Grant the Attorney General the authority to request the presence of federal observers where there is a serious threat of racial discrimination in voting.
  • Implement best practices and require federal approval for policies that impact the ability to cast a ballot or register to vote, the availability of language assistance, or redistricting.

How to take action:

Helpful messaging:

We get a lot of questions about messaging, so we’re sharing some tips to help you craft your own statements, posts, and communications about voting legislation.

  • The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would help ensure our elections are safe, accessible, and fair for all voters. Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states used discriminatory tactics like poll taxes and literacy tests to create unjust barriers to voting. Without H.R. 4 in place, states and jurisdictions have little to no oversight and are able to enact discriminatory policies far too easily now and in the future.
  • H.R. 4 goes hand in hand with the For the People Act (S. 1). Both pieces of federal legislation are necessary for a truly fair democracy.
  • Protecting citizens from racial discrimination in voting is bipartisan. The original Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed with support from Republicans and Democrats alike, and the reauthorizations of the enforcement provisions were signed into law each time by Republican presidents (President Nixon in 1970, President Ford in 1975, President Reagan in 1982, and President Bush in 2006).
  • There’s a lot of legislation circulating right now. You don’t have to be an expert on every detail of every bill in order to show your support for federal legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Additional Resources

  • Vote.org's bill tracker is actively monitoring hundreds of anti-voting bills moving across at least 48 states.
  • Interested in learning more? The complete H.R. 4 text is available here.
  • Vote.org’s Twitter, Instagram, and #VoteReady Social Press Kit contain shareable social media content, explainers, and inspiration.