Community leaders from Southeast Colorado Springs, including Rep. Tony Exum (D-HD17); Regina English, vice president of the Harrison School District 2 Board of Education; and Karl Dent, candidate for El Paso County sheriff, gathered at America the Beautiful Park July 17 to observe the one-year anniversary of the death of Georgia Rep. John Lewis (D-CD5) and to encourage passage of legislation preserving voting rights.
Lewis was first elected to Congress in 1986 and served 17 terms in the House of Representatives. He was also known for his efforts during the civil rights movement. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and took part in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, called Bloody Sunday because of attacks on marchers by police officers.
“Voter suppression is real,” said English. “There are pieces of legislation — we need to pass the For the People Act, we need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and we need to pass D.C. Statehood. These things are important. Our voice matters. Our vote matters. In order for us to have a fair democracy, we must all vote and get this legislation passed.”
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Parts of the 1965 law were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 during Shelby County v. Holder, which allowed states to pass laws that some allege make it harder for minorities to vote. “The very fact that people could look at a voting right as something you can just erase — it’s a fundamental right that people fought and bled and died and demonstrated for,” said Exum. “You would think that in 2021 that that wouldn’t be an issue. They took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and they took Section 5 out in 2013. That was just the beginning to try to destroy the Voting Rights Act as a whole. What they’re trying to do now, these laws are so restrictive and they don’t even make sense. They’re doing it purposefully and intentionally and strategically in communities of color. In Arizona, they didn’t get the votes they thought they were going to get, in Georgia. If you want to win an election you have to outwork your opponent.”
The For the People Act, or H.R. 1, would expand voting rights, modify campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, and eliminate gerrymandering. The bill has been proposed by Democrat lawmakers since 2019, and has been consistently blocked by Republicans. It was most recently filibustered by Republican lawmakers on June 22, sparking debate about abolishing the filibuster itself.
“Since 2020, there’s been over 400 new bills trying to restrict voter rights,” said Exum. “Seventeen bills have been passed in 28 states to restrict voting rights. A lot of people say, ‘Why vote? My vote doesn’t count.’ If your vote didn’t count, or didn’t matter, why are so many people trying to take it away from you?”