Reps. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), James Clyburn (D-S.C.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in 2016. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Democratic lawmakers and civil rights advocates have escalated calls for voting rights protections since the death of Rep. John Lewis, who made the issue his life's work.

Driving the news: House Democrats renamed a measure aimed at restoring a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act after Lewis. The bill, which passed in the House in December, has little chance of clearing the GOP-led Senate.

  • "You want to honor John? Let's honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for," said former President Obama at Lewis' funeral on Thursday.
  • "By the way, naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — that is a fine tribute, but John wouldn't want us to stop there."

Why it matters: The renewed push comes seven years after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that allowed the government to regulate new election laws — like eliminating polling locations — in several mostly Southern states with a history of discrimination.

  • The court suggested at the time that Congress could reinstate the law by passing a new formula to determine which states would be subject to federal oversight.

Of note: At least 1,688 polling places closed across 13 states, nearly all in the South and West, between 2012 and 2018, according to a report by the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights.

  • In addition, states "have shortened voting hours, enacted new barriers to registration, purged millions from voter rolls, implemented strict voter identification laws, reshaped voting districts, and closed polling places," the report says.
  • "For many people, and particularly for voters of color, older voters, rural voters, and voters with disabilities, these burdens make it harder — and sometimes impossible — to vote," the report says.

The issue wasn't always partisan. Congress has renewed the section that determines which states are subject to federal review four times, going back to 1970.

Republican leaders today have widely praised Lewis following his death, but none has expressed support for restoring the provision.

  • “There’s very little tangible evidence of this whole voter-suppression nonsense that the Democrats are promoting,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the Wall Street Journal in June.
  • “My prediction is African-American voters will turn out in as large a percentage as whites, if not more so, all across the country.”

Go deeper

How racial politics still suppress the vote

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Jeremy Hogan (SOPA Image), Noam Galai (WireImage)/Getty Images

Laws restricting voting are less overt than in the days of segregation. But many impediments — some subtle, some blatant — remain for Americans of color.

The big picture: That's changing at this very moment — slowly, and very unevenly.

Restoring the vote to Americans with felony records

Expand chart
Data: The Sentencing Project; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Mass incarceration has fueled Black voter disenfranchisement for decades in the U.S.

Why it matters: More than 5 million Americans are unable to vote because of a felony record, and they are disproportionately Black. The fight to undo felon disenfranchisement laws is gaining ground and could radically shift the political landscape. But progress is also fueling opposition.

Why minority voter participation matters

Reproduced from the Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

Legal barriers have contributed to limiting voter turnout among people of color. But if people of color voted at the rate of white voters, it would immediately alter who gets elected and what policies they pursue.

Why it matters: In the 2018 midterm elections, all major racial and ethnic groups saw a double-digit increase in their voter participation compared to the 2014 midterms, per the Pew Research Center.