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WASHINGTON — Today marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Enacted a year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the VRA sought to prohibit racial discrimination in our voting systems. Tragically, however, a 2013 Supreme Court decision emptied the VRA of its promise.

The right to vote is constantly in peril in this country. The November election will occur during a pandemic and a national reckoning with systemic racism and injustice. But even before the pandemic, some politicians — in an effort to keep systems of white supremacy in place — used voter suppression efforts to restrict access to the ballot for people of color, particularly Black people. This disenfranchisement silences the will of the people on all critical issues, including sexual and reproductive health care. Since Congressman John Lewis’s passing, there have been renewed calls for the Senate to honor his life and legacy by passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), recently reintroduced as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

The country desperately needs robust funding and policies that allow people to vote safely and securely. The Senate must pass the VRAA and ensure essential protections and funding are included in their next COVID-19 relief package for states to have safe and accessible elections in 2020.

Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Action Fund:

“Voting is the most powerful tool we have to fight back against oppressive and dangerous policies that threaten our democracy, our bodies, our health, and our lives. And yet, Black and Latinx people, LGBTQ+ people, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities face rampant voter suppression when they try to take a stand at the ballot box against attacks on their health care access and other injustices. During this pandemic, the attacks are worse and the stakes are higher. This is not a coincidence — those who are silenced cannot demand their freedom. In the wake of the passing of Congressman John Lewis, we cannot give up the fight for the civil and human rights he fought so hard to secure. That’s why we at Planned Parenthood Action Fund are calling on Congress to protect and fund safe and secure elections, and restore the Voting Rights Act. We won’t rest until every voice is heard.”

Marginalized groups continue to encounter barriers to voting that restrict their agency, including voter ID laws and limited early voting. These barriers are systematically used to target the same people who are most affected by COVID-19 and attacks on sexual and reproductive health care —  Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities, people experiencing homlessness, and other historically underserved communities. The widespread polling place closures, long lines with hours-long waits, backlog of absentee ballot requests, and more we’ve seen in recent primary elections are unacceptable. The Senate must act immediately. 

In addition to passing the VRAA, the Senate must also provide at least $3.6 billion to states for necessary voting reforms to meet this moment — as the House did in the HEROES Act. This money will support extended early in-person voting periods, expanded voter registration options, voter education, expanding vote by mail, adding secure drop off locations for ballots, and ensuring safe and secure in-person voting.

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Planned Parenthood Action Fund is an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit membership organization formed as the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Action Fund engages in educational, advocacy and electoral activity, including grassroots organizing, legislative advocacy, and voter education.

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