Letter: Congress must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act

With little notice from the public, a fundamental right of citizens across our great country — the right to cast a vote — is being lost. In state after state, including our great state of Ohio, lawmakers are introducing and passing voter suppression bills. 

The Brennan Center for Justice has tracked 253 bills introduced in 43 states (so far) that make it more difficult to cast a ballot. These bills will make it harder for millions of Americans to vote by mail or vote absentee and would curb the number of early voting days and ballot drop boxes.   

In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement 56 years ago, Congress did the right thing by passing the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which aimed to outlaw Jim Crow practices — practices designed to make it more difficult for Black voters to cast a ballot. But then in 2013, the Supreme Court essentially nullified the law. It didn’t take long for new “Jim Crow 2.0” voter suppression laws and measures to appear, but the anti-voter momentum really took off after former President Trump pushed the “Big Lie” — that President Joe Biden “stole” the 2020 presidential election with the help of mostly Black voters in Georgia, Michigan and other states.    

With a 6-3 decision last week, the conservative wing of the Supreme Court essentially gutted the remaining tethers of the VRA. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, argued that there is no violation of the VRA if the impact on Black and brown voters was deemed too small to really matter. 

So there you have it — according to the highest court in the land, racist laws are OK as long as they don’t suppress the votes of too many Black and brown voters. As egregious as this ruling is, it stands upon the shoulders of what Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion in 2013, when the court deemed much of the VRA as unconstitutional, arguing that racial discrimination in voting was a thing of the past. “Our country has changed,” Roberts famously opined as he and his fellow conservatives destroyed one of the signature accomplishments of the civil rights era — ensuring equal access to the ballot for Black Americans.

So why does this matter to the citizens of Portage County? Why should we care? We should care because small things add up to big things, especially in a county like ours, where every voice, every vote matters — whether it happens in Aurora or Atwater, Ravenna or Rootstown. We should care because so many of us — here in Portage County and across the country — fought for the right to vote. And we should never, ever take that sacred right for granted or dismiss it as “something we don’t need to worry about” anymore.  

No, our worry is justified and our cause to protect the vote is just. But throwing our hands up in the air is not an option. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it won’t bend towards justice without action. The late John Lewis knew that action was required, even if it left him bloodied and bruised marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, marching in the just and moral fight to secure the sacred right to vote for Black Americans.  

Which is why we need Congress to act quickly by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. There is no time to waste when our fundamental right to participate in American democracy is at stake. 

Stand up. Speak out. Take action. And tell Congress to Pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. 

Call U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown: (202) 224-2315

Call U.S. Senator Rob Portman: (202) 224-3353

Call U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan: (202) 225-5261

Frank Hairston, publicity chair of the Portage County NAACP

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