Florida state and federal legislators call on U.S. Senate to pass John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act

State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, left, visited the WMNF studios on August 25 to talk about her road to the Florida Legislature. Photo by Janet Scherberger

Congress has passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act and local leaders are now calling on the Senate to do the same. Congress member Kathy Castor and State Representative Fentrice Driskell today asked the Senate to not waste time getting the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk.


The two Democratic lawmakers were joined by members of the NAACP and PoderLatinx. The NAACP helped lead the charge when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and is still fighting for some of those same rights.

The group spoke outside the Robert Saunders Library. Castor pointed out the significance.

“He was a pillar of this community,” she said. “A former NAACP Florida president. Devoted his career to civil rights, equal rights and voting rights.”

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act is named for the late Georgia congress member who marched to support the original Voting Rights Act. That 1965 act is considered of the most monumental pieces of civil rights legislation passed. It finally prevented discrimination in voting 100 years after the end of slavery.

But a 2013 Supreme Court decision gutted what some say are key portions of the act.  Now, many Republican-led states are using the more lax federal regulations to enact laws many see as a return to the Jim Crow era. Florida’s SB90 voting bill is seen as one of those laws.

A national standard

Driskell said there needs to be a national standard in voting.

“For democracy to work for all of us, every American – no matter their race or zip code – must have the fundamental right to vote,” she said. “Without a national standard, voters – especially voters of color – are at risk of being disenfranchised.”

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act would restore some of the protections stripped in 2013 and:

  • Provides oversight for states with voting rights violations
  • Sets up a process for reviewing changes to local voting laws that have historically been seen as discriminatory – like voter ID laws.
  • Protects accessibility and rights of indigenous voters
  • Gives more oversight power to the Attorney General
  • Makes it easier to get quick decisions in voting rights cases

The bill passed the House along party lines, with Republicans staunchly against it. And it will face a tough battle in the Senate where it could be defeated by a Republican filibuster.

Castor said she’s ready for that battle.

“Our right to vote is at risk today because there is a movement across the country to diminish the voices of the voiceless; to diminish voices of people of color; to diminish voices of ppl who really need to be heard at the ballot box,” she said. “We intend to fight all the way through the U.S. Senate to get them to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Enhancement Act of 2021.”

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