Last Sunday, The U.S. observed the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when state troopers violently beat hundreds of peaceful protesters as they marched for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Among those brutally beaten was John Lewis, the late civil rights icon and a Democratic member
of Congress from Georgia.
To help observe this heroic event, President Biden signed on Sunday an executive order promoting voting rights. The order directs federal agencies to develop a strategic plan for promoting voter registration and participation, including potentially applying to be a state-designated voter registration agency and providing recommendations on leave for federal employees to vote or to serve as poll workers.
The new order comes days after approval in the House of H.R.1, the For The People Act, which, as Bob Bannerman explained in last month’s BCDP newsletter, would guarantee no-excuse mail voting and at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections; require states to use their government records to automatically register citizens to vote; restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences; and mandate the use of paper ballots.
H.R. 1, like the Biden executive order, counters a push by Republican-led state legislatures to roll back voting access. The Brennan Center for Justice reports as of Feb. 19, 2021, legislators in 43 states are considering 250 bills that would make it harder for people in their jurisdictions to vote — more than seven times the number of restrictive bills as compared to roughly this time last year. These bills primarily seek to limit mail voting and impose stricter voter ID requirements.
So far, no one in the North Carolina state legislature has introduced such legislation. But voters in North Carolina can be sure such proposals are on their minds. In a year when redistricting is on the agenda, it’s only a matter of time before Republicans in the legislature try once again to deny full and equal voting rights to all North Carolinians. This is no time for the North Carolina GOP to set the rules on how our elections will be run for years to come.
Predictably, Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC) and his Republican allies are panning the For the People Act, stating it’s a federal overreach and unconstitutional. It’s the same, tired argument the GOP has used to oppose every advancement of civil and voting rights laws for decades. More than 100 years after the Jim Crow era, the effort to disenfranchise voters drags on.
Republicans know they can’t win elections in an environment that encourages the right to vote; their chances improve only when they can prevent, obstruct or even deny the vote to all eligible citizens.
Robert Reich, a cabinet member in the Clinton Administration, wrote recently in The Guardian the For the People Act is the most important piece of civil rights legislation since Congress approved the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts of the 1960s. “The U.S. is again approaching a crucial decision point on the most fundamental right of all in a democracy,” he wrote.
This is a time for progress. It’s a time to repel the forces of voter repression. It’s a time to honor the brave men and women who fought for liberty on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Is the GOP bleeding voters?
In the grand scheme of things, it involves only a fraction of the seven million voters in North Carolina. But a recent survey of registered Republicans who have abandoned their party to become independents can’t be a good sign for the GOP.
According to Old North State Politics, a blog featuring the research of prominent academics around North Carolina, the number of Republicans who have abandoned the party since Election Day, 2020 is more than double the number of Democrats who now call themselves independents. The 2-1 margin of GOP deserters vs. Democrats who changed their affiliation is double the difference following the 2016 election.
The blog post had no definitive reason why so many voters abandoned the GOP. But it did have a theory: “One potential hypothesis might be that the January 6 events and the resulting second impeachment of Donald Trump broke the final straw for these voters,” wrote co-authors Dr. Susan Roberts of Davidson College and Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College. “Having the opportunity to switch to a seemingly ‘non-partisan’ unaffiliated status may be a rebuke to the party in the guise of ‘I’ve had enough.’”