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People Powering the Vote: League Leaders and the fight for the VRAA

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Today is August 6th, 2020. It has been 244 days since the Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the U.S. House, 7 years and 1 month since the Shelby v. Holder decision, and 55 years since the Voting Rights Act was originally signed into law. As the days pass by, and we get closer to the November 3 general election, activists and community leaders continue to work towards developing Election Day plans, coordinating election protection, and making sure their communities can safely vote this year. The work is happening whether we have the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) or not. However, we cannot continue to organize in these conditions. We must pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act not only for this presidential election year, but to ensure that redistricting, future primary elections, and local elections remain nonpartisan and free from interference.  

This year, LWVUS is proud to share that we were able to provide state leagues with a grant to coordinate a federal advocacy campaign in their states to gain public support for the VRAA and push their Senators to co-sponsor the bill. Additionally, with the added challenge of communicating during the pandemic, our leaders were incredibly successful in finding opportunities to talk with their U.S. Senators about the importance of passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act to protect voters during a pandemic, and to continue to expand the access to voters. We’ve gathered stories from some of them below:  

The League of Women Voters of Maine is fighting to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act because the protection of voting rights in this historical moment is more essential than ever.

—Anna Keller (they/them), Maine

Our experience attempting to get a meeting with Senator Collins, or her staff has been difficult. Senator Collins and her staff have been generally nonresponsive, and even our attempts to engage on issues she is more publicly supportive of such as federal election funding have not led to a meeting. We have worked to leverage the League's grassroots network by sending action alerts to encourage our members to call her office. Senator King, however, is a staunch supporter of voting rights and was a co-sponsor of the recently renamed John Lewis Voting Rights Act in the Senate. In April, we held a virtual town hall with Senator King with over 2,500 viewers where Senator King spoke about the importance of protecting voting rights through election funding and legislation such as the Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

It is important that our federal delegation represents the strong support Mainers have for fair and just access to voting, and we will continue to call on Senator Collins to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act. As Senator Collins undertakes a very prominent re-election campaign, we are looking for additional opportunities to engage with her and her staff to win her support. 

The League of Women Voters Alaska has joined the campaign to pass the VRAA, now the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, because Alaska was one of the targeted states in the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its amendments.

—Judy Andree (she/her), Alaska

Alaska has the highest proportion of indigenous citizens of any state and is one of the few where indigenous languages are alive and spoken as the first language in Alaska Native homes, particularly in southwest and northern Alaska. Unfortunately, we had a territorial history of imposing barriers to Alaska Native voters, particularly in the form of an English-language literacy test required for voter registration that only came off the books in 1970 after 11 years of statehood. The test is gone, but there have been important court cases as recently as the last decade that have resulted in ballots and voter information published in major Alaska Native languages and Tagalog.    

We’ve been able to successfully meet with both of our U.S Senators. We thanked Senator Murkowski for her support in co-sponsoring the VRAA and hope to bring Senator Sullivan on board as well. We are continuing to campaign on social media for the VRA and honor the legacy of Congressman John Lewis who fought for voting rights throughout his career.  

The Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) restores and modernizes the protections of the original Voting Rights Act and would remedy what has become in many localities a pattern of minority voter suppression.

—Fran Wagner (she/her), Kentucky

As citizens today are demanding an end to systemic oppression of Black people by the justice system, their call must be extended to include bringing an end to voter suppression. In Kentucky, as thousands of demonstrators call for justice for the killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police, legislators and our Secretary of State are imposing registration and voting restrictions that unduly impact people of color, low-income citizens, and the elderly.   

As part of a statewide education/advocacy campaign about the VRAA, Kentucky League members have reached out to Senator Mitch McConnell asking him to support a hearing on the bill (passed by the House in December) and its passage in the Senate. We hope, moreover, there will be an opportunity to build on the recent momentum to name the VRAA legislation in honor of John Lewis who was instrumental in the passage of the 1965 VRA. Senator McConnell does have a record of consistently voting for re-authorization of the VRA until the Supreme Court decision striking down key parts.  While the Senator’s support for VRAA appears unlikely now, national public opinion may be swinging in the bill’s favor making him more open to its passage.  

Across these states, our State leaders and their volunteers have been successful in steering conversations on voting rights and getting the attention of their U.S. Senators. They have spent time organizing townhalls and forums, writing postcards to Senate offices, and most importantly keeping the fight for voting rights invigorated amid a pandemic. Our League members have shown that 55 years of expanded voting rights and protections for Americans cannot be forgotten.  

As they all agree, there is still a lot of work to be done across the country in meeting both the historical moment we are in and paving the way for a future that protects and defends civil rights. On the 55th anniversary of the VRA, we honor the legacy of Congressman John Lewis, the continued fight for voting rights, and the vision for a future where access to the ballot box for all voters is unwavering.  

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