SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Many on both sides of the political aisle have honored the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis in the past few days with speeches and tweets.
Still, friends and Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives say the best way to honor the civil rights icon is with action on voting rights.
Last year, the House passed H.R. 4 Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019. The vote was along party lines with just one Republican voting yes. Monday, the House voted to rename the bill for John Lewis, and its supporters continue to urge the U.S. Senate to debate and pass the bill.
As a young man, Lewis fought for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It authorized certain rules that states with a history of discriminating against voters of color had to follow.
The rule became known as preclearance. It indicated that states could only make changes to local elections laws by first getting approval from the federal government.
However, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that preclearance no longer had to be followed by nine states, including Georgia. The court ruling indicated that enough time had passed that the prior restrictions were no longer needed.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says that the 2013 decision has allowed those states to more easily change election laws and argues that has adversely affected African-American voters.
Nancy Abudu, the Deputy Legal Director of SPLC says while some states, including Georgia, say they no longer need preclearance — she disagrees.
“We don’t have to look too far beyond the recent June 9th primaries in Georgia where we saw four and five-hour-long waiting lines in order for people to vote, and that those lines were predominantly in communities of color,” Abudu said. “If you don’t have access to a polling place and you haven’t received your absentee ballot, how are you supposed to vote?”
She says more strict voter ID laws have been passed. It’s also estimated that up to 200 polling locations in Georiga have closed.
Abudu says SPLC supports reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act and the Voting Rights Advancement Act now named in honor of Lewis.
She acknowledges that reinstating preclearance would be considered controversial for states like Georgia but argues that it shouldn’t be.
“We argue they’re not really restrictions. The states just have to get federal approval and if they’re doing the right thing and the state can establish that, it really should be no problem,” she said. “The problem for some of these states is they’re not always doing the right thing and the resentment they feel is that historically, the federal government has not allowed them to get away with it.”
SPLC also supports the bill being taken up by the Senate — but there is no indication that will happen since it was passed more than six months ago and Senate debate has never been scheduled.
News 3 reached out to Georgia Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to ask if they think that the Senate should consider the bill and how they would vote if it were to come to the floor.
We heard from Senator David Perdue’s office. The question of whether the bill should be considered was not answered. But Perdue sent a short statement.
“The right to vote is fundamental, and every legally eligible voter should have the opportunity to freely cast their ballot,” said Perdue.
Congressman Buddy Carter (R) from Georgia’s 1st District was one of those who honored Lewis on the House Floor last week calling him a “giant among men who fiercely dedicated his life to fighting for equality and justice for all. He fought this fight until the very end, and our nation is a better place because of him.”
“There are some people in life you feel honored to meet, and John was certainly one of those people,” Carter said.
We asked Carter why in 2019 he voted “no” on the House Bill now named now named in honor of Lewis.
Carter sent us this statement:
“It’s important to note that this legislation does not reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act is already permanent law. I voted against H.R. 4 because the bill is a partisan effort to force federal control of elections in every state and locality across the country. We need to honor the life and legacy of Representative John Lewis with strong, bipartisan legislation that rises above partisan politics.”