Act Now to Protect Voting Rights

01.19.22 | Advocacy and Action

    a call to action created by

    the National Council of Churches

    NCC's Statement on Voting Rights

    “As we question monuments made of concrete and mortar, Congressman Lewis’ life was a living monument to exemplary prophetic witness in the public square. His life was a reflection of what God requires of us from Micah 6:8, ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God,’” -Rev. Aundreia Alexander, NCC’s Associate General Secretary for Action and Advocacy's reflection in NCC's Statement on John Lewis' Death and Continued Support for Voting Rights

    American democracy is at an inflection point. Voting rights are again hanging in the balance and as the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) we are compelled to speak out about the urgency of passing critical legislation to ensure the right to vote in our nation.

    When rights of one are denied, we are all impacted. We must stand together to ensure the full acceptance and citizenship for all in our society, guaranteeing and protecting each person’s human rights on an equal basis. The right to vote is the very center and core of a fair and free democracy. To deny access to the vote is to deny the very humanity and sacredness of those denied. We call upon the Administration and Congress to live up to the promises made by this nation’s founders when they asserted that all were created equal and pass voting rights legislation that will remove barriers to the ballot. We call for the passage of The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.

    We call for the passage of these bills by any means necessary, including the end of the filibuster that has historically been used to block the voting rights of African Americans. The filibuster is a relic of the Jim Crow era and should not be allowed to upend voting rights now. In 1957, Senator Strom Thurman set the record for longest individual filibuster when he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes to oppose the Civil rights Act of 1957. In 1964 Senator Richard Russell, Jr. led other political leaders to hold up passage of the Civil rights Act of 1964 for 60 working days.

    This is a moment for us to act. This is a moment when we must stand up and speak out as people of faith and conscience, calling on the Senate to end the filibuster and pass these critical pieces of voting rights legislation and ensure the right to vote.

    The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act

    Passing reforms that protect our democracy from oppressive statutes is crucial right now. The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act have been packaged into The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, which has passed the House of Representatives, and must also pass the Senate.

    Background on the legislation:

    The Freedom to Vote Act (S.2747) represents a major step forward in the push to enact comprehensive legislation to strengthen American democracy, promote racial justice and equity for all Americans, and thwart the assault on voting rights taking place in the states. It would set national standards to protect the freedom to vote, counter election sabotage, end partisan redistricting, and fix our broken campaign finance system.

    The Freedom to Vote Act is an important step to protect the sacred right to vote after months of delay and obstruction. We are encouraged by many provisions, that will ensure our democracy is responsive and accountable to voters. The Freedom to Vote Act contains the main pillars of the For the People Act, including protecting the right to vote, ending partisan gerrymandering, and decreasing the power of big moneyed special interests.

    The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (S.4) would restore and strengthen our freedom to vote by making sure that any changes to voting rules that could discriminate against voters based on our race or background are federally reviewed, so we all have an equal say in our future and our rights are protected.

    The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would reinvigorate and strengthen the VRA by:

    • Establishing new review and approval criteria for preventing racial discrimination in voting;
    • Requiring federal review of specific voting practices known to discriminate against voters of color;
    • Mandating greater nationwide transparency of voting law and policy changes;
    • Restoring voters’ ability to challenge racial discrimination in court;
    • Allowing voters of color to challenge voting changes that worsen their position.
    • Expanding federal courts’ “bail-in” authority.
    • Updating the law’s “bail-out” framework.
    • Allowing U.S. Department of Justice to compel jurisdictions to produce documents to investigate voting rights violations;
    • Expanding the federal observer program; and
    • Temporarily stopping discriminatory voting changes for review before they take effect.

    The Voting Rights Act of 1965 included a requirement to ensure minority voters across the country could participate equally in the electoral process. The Act prohibited discriminatory voting practices and ensured minority voting rights. But after being law for almost half a century, in the case Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated an enforcement mechanism that prevented states with a history of voting discrimination from making changes to voting laws unless the changes went through federal officials. The Supreme Court ruled that the formula for deciding which states and localities have a history of voting discrimination was unconstitutional and the court recommended Congress create a new formula.

    The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will enable a new Court recommended formula to be developed, and restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act. It would restore and strengthen our freedom to vote by making sure that any state or local changes to voting rules are federally reviewed to ensure they are not discriminating against voters based on race or background, so we all have an equal say in our future and our rights are protected. It would reinvigorate and strengthen the Voting Rights Act and prevent new discriminatory voting rules from being adopted in the future.

    This is critical. The 2013 Shelby County decision unleashed a torrent of discrimination in voting that is pervasive and persistent and takes multiple forms. Just this year, there has been a tremendous surge of state legislation restricting access to the ballot box.

    As of July 22, 2021, state lawmakers have introduced more than 400 bills and enacted 30 laws that create barriers to voters’ freedom to vote in 48 states. The first round of redistricting — the redrawing of boundaries by which we have a chance to elect our preferred representatives — is underway for the first time in decades without the VRA’s full protections against manipulative redistricting. Restoring the VRA to its full strength would prevent future bills and manipulative redistricting efforts from discriminating against voters of color.

    Legislative history: On September 14, 2021, a group of Democratic senators introduced the Freedom to Vote Act. The bill includes many of the most important provisions that were also in the For the People Act (FTPA), which passed the House as H.R. 1 in March 2021, along with new safeguards to protect the integrity of vote counting and ensure sound election administration. The House passed its version of The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act on August 24, 2021.


    Now the US Senate must pass the provisions packaged in the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act to safeguard and improve our democratic processes, #RestoreTheVRA, and ensure Americans can safely and freely cast our ballots so that every voice is heard, and our elections reflect the will of the people. Our Democracy cannot wait! #VotingRightsAreHumanRights

    Send an email message through NCC's Action Network platform or call your Senators at 1-888-885-1748.