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Local News

Groups reflect on critical step toward equal access to ballot box

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Shanteya Hudson, Public News Service

As the hearing for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act approaches, advocacy groups are reflecting on its importance.

For the nonprofit group SOWEGA Rising, which focuses on such grassroots issues as civil rights and rural growth, there have been significant changes in how they can engage the community in voting.

Sherrell Byrd, SOWEGA executive director, said they’ve had to shift their efforts away from strategies that helped secure funding and engage voters in line.

“It is now a felony in the state of Georgia for any organization or individual to provide water and snacks and aid to people who are standing in line. We’ve also seen changes as it relates to absentee ballots and how people can turn in their absentee ballots,” Byrd explained.

Byrd argues that laws such as these continuously create barriers to accessing the polls. The John Lewis Act would enhance the government’s ability to address voting discrimination and ensure equal access to the ballot box.

Byrd emphasized the significance of this issue, highlighting the wide variations in voting laws across different states. According to the 2023 Brennan Center for Justice Voting Laws Roundup, 14 states enacted restrictive voting laws, while others sought to enhance voting accessibility.

“It’s important for America to have just a baseline that this is at the very least what the minimum access should look like across the board so that every American that has the right to vote can have easy and safe access to the polls, ” Byrd continued.

She highlighted the obstacles that have hindered individuals of color, those with disabilities, and rural dwellers, emphasizing the pressing need for sharing their respective experiences.

“I think what’s important that people don’t understand is the power of their story and of their narrative, and what you’re dealing with in your state matters,” Byrd stressed. “And so, contact your legislators, contact your senators. Let them know your challenges that you may be experiencing at the polls, so they can be armed with that information when they have their Senate hearings.”

Named after late civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, the bill was reintroduced by Democratic Senators Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Dick Durbin of Illinois. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the John Lewis Act on March 12.

This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.