Voting rights advocates urge Congress to realize John Lewis’ vision—that democracy includes everyone
Washington, DC — Thousands of advocates in 42 states across the country held more than 150 “Good Trouble Candlelight Vigils for Democracy,” yesterday to mark one year since the passing of Rep. John Lewis. The vigils celebrated his extraordinary legacy and called on Congress to pass critical legislation to protect the freedom to vote, end gerrymandering, and get money out of politics to realize Rep. Lewis’ vision for a democracy that works for all of us.
As part of this, in Washington, DC, the Declaration for American Democracy, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, DC Vote, and the Transformative Justice Coalition, hosted a vigil with members of Congress, including Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-Del) and Joyce Beatty (OH-3), and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), in addition to leaders in the faith community and the movement to transform our democracy. The vigil featured a march from Black Lives Matter Plaza to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where advocates laid a wreath to pay tribute to Rep. Lewis’ incredible life.
“Yesterday, America witnessed more than 150 Good Trouble Candlelight Vigils affirming that John Lewis’ spirit lives on,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition. “In his tradition, we must marshal all of our commitment and resolve to engage in concerted direct action until passage of the For The People Act, DC Statehood and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act! We will invoke the legacy of John Lewis as we march, protest, conduct peaceful civil disobedience and call on the Senate for urgent action to protect all of our nation’s voters.”
“Voting is the language of democracy. It impacts every aspect of our lives today, and the lives our children will lead tomorrow. But the right to vote is in peril as some politicians are trying their hardest to take us backwards by creating barriers for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and new Americans. We are at an inflection point in our nation — one that requires urgent action. Congress must come together to protect the freedom to vote for all Americans by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the For the People Act, and the Washington, DC Admission Act,” said Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Six months have passed since the failed attack on our nation and our democracy on January 6th. Since that day, anti-voter laws have been passed in states all over the country and the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rulings have made clear that it will not act to protect the sacred right to vote. This Summer, Congressional districts risk being redrawn in a way that will allow politicians to choose their voters – rather than the voters fairly choosing who represents them.
“We’re encouraged by the real momentum in Congress to work towards passing sweeping legislation to protect the freedom to vote, but the clock is ticking,” said Jana Morgan, director of the Declaration for American Democracy. “To achieve a political system that is inclusive for all, Congress must delay the August recess until the For the People Act is the law of the land—and Congress cannot let the Jim Crow filibuster stand in the way.”
The Good Trouble Candlelight Vigils for Democracy were hosted by the Declaration for American Democracy, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Transformative Justice Coalition, in partnership with local organizations and advocates on the frontlines of the fight to protect the freedom to vote.
This drive contains downloadable public use photos and videos from the event.
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What would the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act achieve?
The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act is a bold and transformative legislative package that would create national standards to protect our freedom to vote, get big money out of politics, combat partisan election subversion, and guarantee that congressional districts are drawn to give fair representation for all.
Together we can realize a democracy that represents, reflects, and responds to all of us.
Protects Our Freedom to Vote
- Automatic Voter Registration and Online Voter Registration: Enacts an automatic voter registration system for each state through the state’s motor vehicle agency and ensures voters in all states have access to online voter registration.
- Election Day Holiday: Makes Election Day a public holiday.
- Uniform Early Voting: Ensures voters have access to at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, including two weekends, while accommodating small election jurisdictions and vote-by-mail jurisdictions.
- Same Day Voter Registration: Ensures every state offers same day registration at a limited number of locations for the 2022 elections and at all polling locations by 2024, allowing election officials, especially in rural areas, time to implement the new requirements.
- Federal Minimum Standards on Vote by Mail and Drop Boxes: Ensures all voters can request a mail-in ballot, improves the delivery of election mail, and puts in place minimum standards to ensure drop boxes are available and accessible to all voters.
- Strengthens Voter List Maintenance Standards: Requires that the removal of voters from the rolls is done on the basis of reliable and objective evidence and prohibits the use of returned mail sent by third parties to remove voters.
- Counting of Provisional Ballots: Requires provisional ballots to count for all eligible races within a county, regardless of the precinct they were cast in.
- Standards for Voter Identification: Promotes voter confidence and access by requiring a uniform national standard for states that requires identification for in-person voting, and allowing voters to present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form.
- Voting Rights Restoration for Returning Citizens: Restores the right to vote in federal elections for people who have served their time for felony convictions after they are released from prison.
- Expanded Voting Access Protections for the Disabled, Native Americans, Military, Overseas Voters, and Underserved Communities: Includes targeted protections to promote accessible voting to communities facing unique challenges.
Ensures Fair Representation in Government
- Bans Partisan Gerrymandering: Prevents states from adopting congressional maps that unduly favor a political party. Maps will be measured against concrete numerical thresholds for each state, created by political scientists using quantitative metrics of partisan fairness. Courts will also be able to look broadly at the maps and mapmakers’ intent to determine whether they are unduly favoring a political party.
- Strengthens Protections for Communities of Color: By bolstering Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring districts be drawn to represent communities of interest, including communities that share racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic backgrounds.
- Requires States to Adopt Transparent and Fair Processes for Maps: Allows states to enact redistricting plans using their legislature, a commission, or any other entity — provided they hold public hearings, accept public input, adhere to transparency requirements, and explain how final plans adhere to the Voting Rights Act and the ban on partisan gerrymandering.
- Takes Effect Immediately and Applies to All 2022 Maps: Prevents any unfair maps ahead of the 2022 elections, and courts may not allow an illegal map to be used simply because an election is imminent. Any resident may sue their state in federal court for violating the redistricting provisions, and if the court finds the law has been violated, it may either draw a new map or require the state to redraw its map.
Reduces the Influence of Big Money in Politics
- Combatting Secret Money and Election Interference (DISCLOSE Act and Honest Ads Act): Requires super PACs, 501(c)(4) groups, and other organizations spending money in elections to disclose donors and shuts down the use of transfers between organizations to cloak the identity of contributors. Ensures that political ads sold online have the same transparency and disclosure requirements as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.
- State Election Assistance & Innovation Fund: Establishes a self-sustaining fund to finance critical investments in state-led innovations for our democracy and election infrastructure. The fund is financed through an additional assessment paid on federal fines, penalties, and settlements for certain tax crimes and corporate malfeasance. States would be allotted an annual distribution for eligible democracy and election-related investments. States could select to access their full distribution or a partial distribution, or roll over their distribution for future use.
- Nonpartisan Oversight of Federal Election Law: Improves the ability of the Federal Election Commission to carry out oversight and enforcement responsibilities.
- Stopping Illicit Super PAC Coordination: Creates “coordinated spender” category to ensure single-candidate super PACs do not operate as arms of campaigns.
Combats Partisan Election Subversion
- Preventing State Election Subversion: Establishes federal protections to insulate nonpartisan state and local officials who administer federal elections from undue partisan interference or control.
- Protection of Election Records, Election Infrastructure, and Ballot Tabulation: Strengthens protections for federal election records and election infrastructure in order to protect the integrity and security of ballots and voting systems.
- Voter-Verified Paper Ballots, Reliable Audits, and Voting System Upgrades: Requires states to use voting systems that use paper ballots that can be verified by voters and to implement reliable post-election audits. Also provides grants for states to purchase new and more secure voting systems and make cybersecurity improvements.
- Non-Partisan Election Official Recruitment and Training: Tasks the Election Assistance Commission with developing model training programs to recruit a new generation of election workers and provides dedicated grants for training and recruitment.
- Comprehensive Voting System Security Protections: Puts in place election vendor cybersecurity standards, including standards for manufacturing and assembling voting machines, among other key security measures.
- Establishing Duty to Report Foreign Election Interference: Creates a reporting requirement for federal campaigns to disclose certain foreign contacts.
What is the Declaration for American Democracy?
A Coalition of 250+ Member Organizations
The Declaration for American Democracy is an anti-oppression coalition working together to make the promise of democracy real for all of us.
We believe our democratic systems, institutions, and leaders must reflect, represent, and respect the diverse, multicultural nation that we are and have always been. For democracy to work for all of us, it must include all of us and address the deep systemic, institutional challenges that continue to block meaningful progress to this day. As America’s diversity continues to grow, so must our democracy.
Today our democracy faces crises on multiple fronts -- compounded by a deeply problematic history that has held us back from achieving an inclusive and equitable multiracial nation since our founding. Powerful corporations and wealthy special interests use their money and influence to shape public policy priorities. Extremist politicians are putting up deliberate barriers to block access to the ballot box and silence the voices of Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI, low-income, LGBTQIA, disability, and other marginalized communities. State legislatures are manipulating Congressional maps to allow politicians to pick their voters and hoard power for their political parties. And our government has failed to respond after four years of a corrupt administration and Supreme Court decisions gutting voting rights protections and anti-corruption laws.
Working together, we are committed to passing national standards, including the Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and DC Statehood, to transform our political system and move our country closer to realizing the true promise of democracy. However, we will not be satisfied with any single reform and will continue to press for the structural changes necessary to rebalance power for the people and undo the historic harms that have barred communities that have been marginalized and denied political power since the founding of the United States.
We believe people of color, young people, people with disabilities, language minorities, and other historically disenfranchised communities should have equal access to the ballot and be equitably represented in government. We believe everyday people should have a stronger voice in elections than wealthy donors and special interests. And we believe our government should be transparent and accountable to the people.
Together we must ensure the freedom to vote is a fundamental American right and that the people -- regardless of our color, our background, or our zip code - hold the power, not the wealthy and corporations.
Therefore, we, the Declaration for American Democracy, are committed to working together to achieve this vision and model our values in how we work together. As a coalition, we will invest in each other and treat each other with respect. We will acknowledge and learn from our past, including the legacy of racism and white supremacy in our movement and democratic institutions. In decision making we will center Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI, LGBTQIA, people with disabilities, language minorities, as well as other impacted communities. And we will invest in each other through professional development, collaborative grantmaking, and shared projects.