Rep. Morelle: John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would combat voter discrimination

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — New legislation has passed in the House, designed to strengthen The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and combat voter discrimination. It’s called The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after late civil rights activist who advocated for voting rights and equality.

The bill was approved along party lines.

Co-sponsor Congressman Joe Morelle was joined with several community leaders Thursday afternoon to explain its significance.

Rep. Morelle says over the years, the Supreme Court has gutted some of the primary achievements of the Civil Rights-era voting law. Some states, passing laws that disproportionately impact the underserved, especially black and brown communities.

Some of these laws decrease the amount of polling sites, making it harder for certain neighborhoods to easily vote if they have limited transportation. Others, make it more challenging to obtain an absentee ballot.

This new law aims to combat those practices.

The bill outlines these key factors:

  • Review voting changes in jurisdictions nationwide, focusing on measures that have historically been used to discriminate
  • Increase transparency, require reasonable public notice for voting changes
  • Give Attorney General authority to request presence of federal observers anywhere in the country where there is serious threat of racial discrimination in voting
  • Create new coverage formula that hinges on a finding of repeated voting rights violations in the preceding 25 years
  • Strengthen Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which protects the ability to challenge discriminatory voting practices

“We’re looking for them to protect our fundamental right to vote, more specifically protect the vote of the people historically marginalized,” said Dr. Seanelle Hawkins, President of Urban League of Rochester

Rep. Morelle says New York is one of the best states to vote right now, but we have to be vigilant. “Because if people watch what’s happening in other parts of the country, seeing some of those obstacles and barriers, who knows what people will attempt to do even here in New York. As I said we have to be vigilant, always, always,” he said.

August 26 is also Women’s Equality Day, recognizing the 19th Amendment passed over years ago giving women the right to vote.

Those opposing the bill say it’s purely political. They fear it would amount to an unconstitutional federal power grab over local election laws.

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