Voting Rights Advancement Act
with LaShawn Warren of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
A poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic revealed barriers that people of color face in exercising their right to vote.
LaShawn Warren, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, discusses the Voting Rights Advancement Act and how advocates say it can help.
Jan 29, 2021
Anderson: For the 2020 general elections, many states made voting more accessible by expanding mail-in and early balloting. Despite that, voting rights advocates say that some black and Latino voters were still hindered by suppression efforts. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. So what is the current state of voting rights in the U.S.? It's an important discussion to have, and joining me to have it is LaShawn Warren. She is the executive vice president of government affairs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. LaShawn, thanks for being here.
Warren: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: So one person's example of suppression is often another's example of voting security. I'm thinking about the voter I.D. requirement in some places. But you say that voting suppression is very cut and dry. So explain to our viewers what it is and where we've already seen it happen.
Warren: So, first, I think it's important to acknowledge that voter suppression is something that is pervasive and it's continuing to happen. It manifests itself in a lot of different ways. So it could be a situation where there are photo I.D. requirements. There are also restrictions on early voting. One situation that we saw in advance of the 2016 election in Georgia was, Randolph County closed seven polling places. And all of those polling places were located in predominantly African-American communities. And so one of the things that we are looking very closely at is all of the different tactics that are used to prevent people from exercising their right to vote.
Anderson: So some of the things that you're talking about when it comes to limiting people's rights to cast their ballot have been effective because of what the Supreme Court decided in 2013. It was Shelby County v. Holder. That was the case. Why was that case such a game changer?
Warren: So Shelby County basically eliminated the coverage formula by which a number of states, predominantly in the South, would have to -- Based on the coverage formula, all of those jurisdictions would have to submit their voting changes, Any changes to their voting practices or procedures, they would have to submit those to the Department of Justice for review. And the Department of Justice would do an analysis to see if those particular practices, if they were implemented, whether they would have a negative impact on communities of color. And if they did, then they would prohibit it from moving forward with it. So, for example, Georgia on many occasions tried to implement a photo I.D. requirement, but was blocked by the Department of Justice. When Shelby County -- When the Shelby County case -- When the opinion was rendered, basically all of those jurisdictions no longer had to get any of their practices approved by the Department of Justice or a federal D.C. court. So what that meant was, there is no transparency. And a number of these jurisdictions as soon as Shelby County was handed down -- North Carolina and Texas, for example, within days -- started to enact a number of practices and procedures that would make it much more difficult for people of color to participate in the political process.
Anderson: So a lot of those issues of suppression that you talked about are addressed by H.R. 4. Talk to us about that act. It wasn't fully implemented in the last Congress, but what are you doing to make sure that the latest Congress does fully pass it?
Warren: So one of the things that H.R. 4 does is, it establishes a new coverage formula. So those jurisdictions that have a history of discrimination and have several voting rights violations would be covered. And so they would have to present all of their changes to their practices and procedures to the Department of Justice. And Section 5 would continue to operate in the ways that it had before. At this point, we do anticipate there being an opportunity to move H.R. 4. It passed in the House the last time. But this time, given the change in the Senate, we anticipate there being much more of an appetite and much more of an opportunity to get the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act passed.
Anderson: LaShawn, for those who don't vote or those who don't want certain Americans to vote, what do you say to them about the importance of exercising such a fundamental right?
Warren: Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and we live in a representative democracy. And if people want to see their lives improved, they have a vested interest in exercising their right to vote. Voting is the key to our liberation. People want better housing. They want affordable housing. They want jobs. They want better schools, green spaces, and investments in their community. And one of the ways to ensure that happens is to elect a candidate of your choice who will represent your interests. I mean, it also has impact on policing and how justice is administered throughout this country. And so it's important for people to exercise their right to vote and really see the importance of it and exercise their agency, particularly in this day and age.
Anderson: So, LaShawn, if people want to know more about what you all do, where can they go? What's your website?
Warren: Our website is www.civilrights.org.
Anderson: LaShawn Warren with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, thank you so much for joining us.
Warren: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.
Anderson: And thank you to our viewers, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, as always, be sure to log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.