Outlawing handing out food and water to people waiting to vote, preventing election officials from supporting the request for mail-in ballots, limiting what election officials can do to prevent voter intimidation from poll watchers, cutting back on the amount of time to cast a vote, and banning drive-thru voting, the political environment does not seem friendly nor conducive to the fundamental right to participate in a democracy: the right to vote. However, these are actual laws that are in the books today in Texas, Georgia, and seven other Republican states, actively seeking to undermine the right of their residents and BIPOC voters to take part in this nation’s democratic system. With these laws recently enacted and more “copycat” laws being discussed in at least 19 other states, the Democratic Party must use its majority in both the House and Senate to carve out an exemption to the filibuster and pass legislation that will safeguard the right of Americans to make their voice heard in local and national elections — a right that the Framers held dear. The remaining stability and security of our democratic system is in jeopardy and the responsibility to protect our democracy is in the hands of the Democrats.
After former President Donald Trump repeatedly pushed the conspiracy that the 2020 election was “stolen” and therefore illegitimate, many Republican states introduced legislation that would restrict the legal parameters in which an American can cast a vote under the guise that they were promoting the “security” and “legitimacy” of their elections. After all, enough of the Republican base believed Biden’s victory was illegitimate — only 27% of Republicans believe it was a fair election — so much so that a tenacious group of far-right, Trumpist supporters launched an insurrection on the Capitol Building — a hallmark of American democracy. Even after such an egregious attack on the Capitol Building, the sheer percent of Republicans that believed the outcome of the 2020 election was corrupted and the overriding belief among GOP lawmakers that future elections must be “protected” from voter fraud, set up the perfect environment for numerous Republican states across the country to pass laws suppressing the right to vote.
Of course, it would be irresponsible to say that the right to vote hasn’t been under attack for at least the past decade. The Supreme Court struck down key portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, which in essence gutted the core of the law. It’s no secret that Southern states during and after the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s attempted to undermine the vote of Black people. As a result, the Voting Rights Act had required Southern states to submit any proposed changes to their voting laws to the Department of Justice for review before they could proceed. In 2013, tThe Supreme Court took this out: removing another law that protected the vote of BIPOC citizens removed from the books.
Amid the undermining of the right to vote and the calamity that characterizes American politics today is a Democratic Party that holds a majority in both the Senate and the House and is led by a President who makes big promises yet no promised results. Biden promised to protect the right to vote even after his campaign ended upon his victory, but has not really mobilized his influence as President to give hope or action to the American people and voting rights activists. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 11 to publicize the need for Congress to pass legislation protecting the right to vote. However, some notable groups that helped the Biden/Harris ticket win Georgia, namely the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Asian American Advocacy Fund, and the family of Martin Luther King Jr., refused to attend their visit, claiming that Biden has failed his campaign promise to deliver on protecting the right to vote, replacing any meaningful action with “political platitudes and repetitious, bland promises.” The time is no more perfect than now, with two major bills on federal voting laws, for the Democratic Party to finally act on its majority in the House and Senate to pass these bills and safeguard a fundamental right under attack. The Democrats should make it known that there is no such thing as “compromise” on the issue of the right to vote. There are only those who want to expand voting access and those who want to limit or constrict it.
There are two bills regarding voting rights on the floor of the Senate: Freedom To Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. These are how they break down:
Freedom To Vote Act
- Expand early voting access
- Establish automatic voter registration (you have to opt-out rather than opt-in)
- Grant the right to vote to formerly incarcerated people after their sentences end (including felons)
- Make Election Day a federal holiday
John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
- Restore/reform the provisions struck down in the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court
With the remains of American democracy hanging in the balance, it is the responsibility of the Democratic Party and Biden to fulfill their promise not only to their base but to the American people to deliver on their campaign promise and fulfill their duty to the U.S. Constitution: protect the right to vote. Over time, our country has become characterized by two very different political environments: one in which voting is ameliorated and easier and one where the right to vote is considered a privilege. What will the path forward be for the American people and government to be united once again in a mutual understanding for what our nation was founded on?
Art by Tony Anguiano for UCSD Guardian.