Protecting the Freedom to Vote, from the Voting Rights Act to Today

Aug 11, 2023

Every voter in every community deserves for their voice to be heard at the ballot box, regardless of their race, identity, disability, age, income, or zip code. However, too many voters face unjust, discriminatory obstacles to voting. As extremists across the country continue to push anti-voter legislation and create even more barriers to vote in communities that have been historically excluded, legislation like the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act are a necessary step toward ensuring our elections are more free and fair for all.

We can’t have a healthy environment without a healthy democracy, and we can’t have a healthy democracy without protecting our right to vote. Passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act would help return power to the people, and the overwhelming majority of people in this country want to see meaningful action on climate and clean energy.

LCV asked members of Congress to answer questions about voting rights in America, how legislation like the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will protect the people’s fundamental right to govern ourselves, and what they are doing to make sure we maintain and protect a strong, robust democracy for all.

Read their answers to our questions below:

1). As we celebrate the 58th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, what is the legacy of this monumental piece of legislation, and how has it worked to protect and expand critical access to the ballot?

“In President Johnson’s words: “It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.” Protecting access to the ballot box for every eligible voter was the aim—and the legacy—of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” – Sen. Merkley

“Born of the civil rights movement, the VRA is a landmark law that builds on the constitutional promise of equal protection under law & the right to vote by prohibiting racial discrimination in voting – safeguarding every American’s right to have a voice in their democracy.” – Rep. Sarbanes

“The #VotingRightsAct of 1965 is one of the most consequential civil rights bills in our history—making discriminatory voting practices illegal and ensuring every American has an equal opportunity to make their voice heard.” – Rep. Morelle

“The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 broke down barriers to the ballot box and was the result of the tireless work of people like the late Congressman John Lewis who put their lives on the line to guarantee voting rights for all.” – Sen. Klobuchar

“One of the first times I came to D.C., I attended the hearings that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. I’ve seen firsthand how the VRA became a transformative piece of legislation, ensuring every American has a right to vote regardless of the state they call home.” – Sen. Carper

“When Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, it was a recognition that racial discrimination continued to deny people the right to vote. The bill was a hard-fought victory won by Black activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis, who dedicated their lives to this mission.” – Rep. Jayapal

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is often called the most successful civil rights legislation in American history. It added voting protections and ended racial discrimination especially states with a history of discrimination like my state of Georgia.” – Rep. Williams

2). Despite progress, many people in this country face unnecessary obstacles making it more difficult to vote. What are some of the biggest voting barriers that people face? How do these barriers impact communities unequally and inequitably?

“Across the country, we’re seeing GOP state legislatures hell-bent on eroding our freedom to vote, whether that’s through gerrymandering, removing polling places, restricting mail-in voting, and more. By @BrennanCenter’s count, 322 bills like this were introduced just this year.” – Sen. Merkley

“Onerous registration requirements, inadequate polling locations, a lack of early or mail-in voting, and voter purging are just some of the obstacles designed and intentionally deployed to make it harder for predominantly minority or low-income communities to vote.” – Rep. Sarbanes

“Today, extremist Republicans are utilizing deliberate tactics to restrict voting access—resulting in long lines to vote on Election Day, woefully insufficient in-person early voting, restrictions on mail voting, and creating additional barriers to voter registration.” – Rep. Morelle

“From the removal of mail ballot drop boxes and long lines at polling places to limiting early voting and making it harder to register to vote, too many Americans have faced serious obstacles to voting, especially in communities that have been historically disenfranchised.” – Sen. Klobuchar

“When SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights Act, it gave a green light to extremists who have waged a coordinated effort to make it harder for certain Americans to vote… Closed polling stations, long lines, purged voter rolls, bans on early/absentee voting. The list goes on…” – Rep. Sewell

“From long lines at polling locations to restrictive voter ID laws, there are so many obstacles used to make it more difficult for Americans to vote. Voter suppressionists use these tools to target underprivileged communities and silence their voices and their rights.” – Rep. Jayapal

3). Key protections in the Voting Rights Act are in jeopardy. How has voter suppression rolled back the progress we’ve made since the Civil Rights Era? How can we prevent continuing efforts to degrade access to the ballot box?

“It is no coincidence that after the 2020 election – when more Americans voted than ever before in what the Department of Homeland Security called “the most secure election in American history”  – there was a flood of state election laws meant to suppress votes.” – Sen. Klobuchar

“While we’ve made incredible strides over the last 50+ years, there are still those who seek to dismantle that progress and suppress voters’ voices. Just this year, we’ve seen almost a dozen states across the country enact restrictive voting laws—and more are soon to do the same.” – Rep. Morelle

“In the decade since SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights Act, one thing is clear—old battles have become new again. Congress must take action to restore the FULL protections of the VRA. That’s why I’m proud to be leading the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the House!” – Rep. Sewell

“In Georgia, it was the infamous SB202 or as I call it, Jim Crow 2.0., which led to the lowest racial voter turnout gap in Georgia in decades. Now extreme MAGA Republicans are looking to copy it at the federal level. One solution is passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.” – Rep. Williams

“As of June, 322 restrictive voting laws had been introduced around the country. On top of those, many states have put in place incredibly gerrymandered maps, reducing the representation that communities of color have in Congress or their state legislatures.” – Rep. Jayapal

“The VRA was landmark federal legislation to prohibit racial discrimination in access to the ballot box, but voter suppressionists are attacking it. In 2013, SCOTUS gutted the preclearance provision to help ensure voters of color didn’t face discriminatory election regulations.” – Sen. Merkley

4). How will bills like the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act help restore and strengthen protections in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and how can people get involved to push for these and other critical voting protections?

“The Freedom to Vote Act & John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act work together to expand access to the ballot box, end partisan gerrymandering & combat big money in politics. These are commonsense measures voters of all political stripes can call on their elected officials to support.” – Rep. Sarbanes

“We need to answer the systematic dismantling of our fundamental freedom to vote by GOP-controlled state legislatures with strong federal protections that make sure EVERY eligible voter has equal access to the ballot box.” – Sen. Merkley

“Building on the same principles as the #VotingRightsAct—the #FreedomtoVoteAct would set national standards to protect access to voting for all eligible Americans, protect voters against intimidation, modernize our elections systems, and bolster protections against gerrymandering.” – Rep. Morelle

“States are laboratories of democracy, but democracy depends on equal access to the ballot. By passing the Freedom to Vote Act & the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, Congress can fulfill our responsibility to protect the right to vote and uphold the sanctity of our electoral process.” – Sen. Carper

“The Freedom to Vote Act would create broad opportunities to vote before and on election day, make Election Day a holiday, and expand voter protections to underserved communities. It would make voting easier for ALL people.” – Rep. Williams

“These critical pieces of legislation would protect and expand the right to vote, making sure that no individual can be discriminated against based on where they live or the color of their skin.” – Rep. Jayapal

“The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the FULL protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It would once again prohibit states from passing restrictive, anti-voter laws, and would ensure that every eligible American can have their voice heard and counted.” – Rep. Sewell

5). We believe that the health of our environment and the health of our democracy are inextricably linked. How are they connected, and what are some recent events that underscore the importance of collaborative work to protect our democracy and environment?

“All of our rights, our laws—all of the power the people have—flows from the ballot box. That means the issues that we all care about, including climate, are tied directly to the health of our electoral process and the ability for every eligible voter to make their voice heard.” – Sen. Merkley

“We can’t have a healthy democracy without a liveable planet. Last year, I helped pass the Inflation Reduction Act—the single-largest climate change investment in our nation’s history. Now, I’m working with the Biden admin. to realize the benefits of this unprecedented law.” – Sen. Carper

“We need to fight every single day to protect both our democracy and our planet. Because of all of the work we did in 2020, Democrats were able to pass the largest climate bill ever last summer, investing billions in clean energy and environmental protections.” – Rep. Jayapal

“Everything comes back to voting rights. Free and fair access to the ballot. We make change through voting at all levels and a healthy democracy means ALL voices are heard. It’s very encouraging to see the youth get involved and fight for climate justice and voting rights.” – Rep. Williams

“The climate crisis is happening now and we need to confront it with a sense of urgency. The same communities that have been historically disenfranchised are likely to experience a disproportionate share of the effects of climate change and environmental disasters.” – Sen. Klobuchar

“When Americans vote, they make a statement about the policies and future they want to see – & overwhelmingly they want a cleaner future. By rooting out polluters’ dark money & ensuring these voices are heard, we’ll create a healthier democracy & world for generations to come.” – Rep. Sarbanes

“Throughout my career, I’ve met with so many people from my community who expressed their concerns about the #climatecrisis and asked how they can get involved in making change. My best advice? VOTE.” – Rep. Morelle

“It is no coincidence that communities targeted by voter suppression bear the burden of environmental injustice. After all, our vote is our VOICE! It is how we fight for clean air, clean water, a healthier environment, and more prosperous communities!” – Rep. Sewell

Tell Congress: Pass the Freedom to Vote Act

The Freedom to Vote Act will ban partisan gerrymandering in congressional elections, improve our broken campaign finance system, and combat partisan election subversion — all of which are critical to allowing voters to freely and fairly elect representatives who will take meaningful action on climate change. Help protect voting rights. Urge Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act today.

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A man checks in to vote at a polling station.