It addresses the issue of deceptive practices, adding greater penalties to those seeking to confuse and misinform voters with dubious information. It equalizes voting rights so that individuals with past criminal convictions, who have paid their debt to society, can vote in federal elections once their incarceration period has ended. And it provides greater protections to ensure that individuals with disabilities have fewer problems with voting.
If passed, the act would provide some of the most comprehensive changes in years — all with the purpose of making it easier for citizens to vote.
Lewis’ introduction of the VEA last month is momentous not just in substance but also in its historic significance at this particular time. It was introduced just after Martin Luther King Jr. Day and on the anniversary of the ratification of the 24th Amendment, which outlawed the use of poll taxes.
These two historic markers remind us that the road to equality and advancement of voting rights is not just something that happens in a moment and then disappears. Rather, the fight for voting rights is a continuing effort — and must remain so until we can ensure that all voters can exercise this precious right, free of any road blocks.
This is something that Lewis knows well. He has been in the battlefield fighting to protect voting rights for more than 40 years. It is a lesson we would all be well-advised to learn for the sake of our democracy.
Nicole Austin-Hillery is director and counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C., office.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.