Yet another attempt to redefine the right to vote in the U.S. died in the Senate, but the Democrats aren’t done yet – they’re working on resurrecting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. What makes this any different from the failed For the People Act? Will Republicans see this as a compromise they can accept, or is it destined to perish like its predecessor?
For the People?
The For the People Act was rejected by Senate Republicans on June 22, much to the chagrin of Democrats who had positioned the ambitious bill as a flagship piece of legislation on electoral reform. As Liberty Nation’s Kelli Ballard pointed out, the For the People Act “was created, in part, to counter a number of states changing their voting laws.” It gained inspiration from the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which, among other things, required certain states to go through a process called preclearance before changing voting laws – that is, they first had to get approval from the Department of Justice’s civil rights division.
Note that the law didn’t require members of Congress – who, for the most part, hold transparent votes and must answer to the people come election time – to approve of these state-by-state changes, but a department of the Executive Branch with a staff American voters can’t fire. The For the People Act would have reinstated this requirement, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, and apply it to all 50 states.
But that’s not all. It would have also required automatic registration of anyone eligible to vote save those who explicitly opt-out. Though people under 18 wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, everyone above age 16 would have been registered. Now, combine that with the fact that it would have prohibited voter ID requirements, enabled people to send absentee ballots from home for any reason, and removed the penalties for illegal aliens who are automatically registered to vote but don’t lie about their citizenship status. Under such a law, it is possible there would be numerous non-citizens and minors voting in each election, as well as anyone who feels like submitting a ballot or two – or more.
In the Name of Lewis
The next step in the so-called voting rights agenda is passing a new version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. There is no actual bill yet, but it isn’t expected to be too different from the previous version, which the House passed in 2020 only for it to die in the Republican-led Senate. This act also aimed to restore the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the new version will reportedly also apply that to all 50 states, effectively placing control of the entire federal election process in the hands of the DOJ. The Congressional Black Caucus is working on the bill, updating the preclearance provisions the Supreme Court initially found fault with so that, should this new version become law, it could survive a judicial review.
The simplest way to describe the differences between the two 2021 bills is that the For the People Act was a true leviathan of legislation that would have changed many things, from actual voting rights to campaign finance and advertising. This John Lewis Act to come is allegedly much narrower in focus – as the previous version was.
Six One Way, Half a Dozen the Other?
Some Democrats – including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who never supported the For the People Act because it was “too partisan” – think this will be an easier pill for the GOP to swallow. The new bill is expected to be ready perhaps as soon as late June or early July, though prior estimates suggested a November introduction.
Republicans took issue with numerous effects of the For the People Act that simply aren’t present in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act; Manchin is correct about that, at least. However, chief amongst the objections was the idea of preclearance through an increasingly left-wing Justice Department.
To be clear, the laws the Democrats believe suppress the voting rights of non-white people are things like requiring photo ID to vote. That’s perfectly fine when driving, applying for a job, opening a bank account, renting or buying a house, or buying pretty much anything regulated by the ATF. But it’s racist to require ID verification to vote. Go figure.
Sen. Manchin may support this “voting rights” bill, but unless he and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) change their minds about the filibuster, the John Lewis Act is about as likely to become law as the two senators are to be crowned king and queen of America.
Read more from James Fite.