Science Group Calls for Renewal of Voting Rights Act and a Stronger Democracy

Statement by Dr. Jennifer Jones, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Sep 19, 2023

WASHINGTON (September 19, 2023)—U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and House Democratic Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), along with co-sponsors, have reintroduced a bill to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act—a 1965 law ensuring all Americans have access to the ballot that U.S. Supreme Court rulings have substantially weakened. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would require jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court before changing their voting laws or practices to ensure the changes are not discriminatory. The bill would also make it easier for voters to challenge discriminatory voting laws in court.

Below is a statement by Dr. Jennifer Jones, director of the Center for Science and Democracy (CSD) at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“A decade after the Supreme Court’s Shelby ruling, at least 29 states have passed 94 laws making it harder for people to vote. Those harmed the most are Black, Latino, Asian, and Native voters.

“The most egregious and discriminatory of these laws have, among other things, reduced polling places and absentee voting opportunities in location with large minority populations, reduced the availability multilingual voting materials, and made it easier to remove voters from registration lists.

“It’s not surprising that since the Shelby decision, Black voter turnout has waned in five of the six states that were covered by preclearance, with the racial turnout gap growing between 9 and almost 21 percentage points.

“We need this law because state laws are returning us to the days when voting was a privilege, selectively given or withheld based on race and social status. Decisions are not made in the public interest when people are deliberately excluded from the process.

“The health of a democracy portends the health of a country and its people.”

For additional resources, see the CSD report “Our Unhealthy Democracy,” which shows how attacks on voting rights undermine public health.