If you think the battle for our democracy ended with the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, you are wrong. Unfortunately, the battle for voting rights continues, and the successful future of our democracy is far from being a sure thing.
In order to understand the Republican assault on voting rights, its important to know a little bit about the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. During the signing ceremony of the Voting Rights Act, President Lyndon B. Johnson characterized the statute as “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.” Since that day, this civil rights law has steadily and surely defeated and deterred countless discriminatory and varied barriers to the ballot.
In 2006, Congress voted to reauthorize the VRA, extending its authority for the fourth time since its enactment. Support was overwhelming and the message was clear; the VRA was still relevant and necessary to protect minority rights. Congress renewed the law for another 25 years by a vote of 390 to 33 in the House, and unanimously in the Senate.
However, in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the VRA by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The core of the disagreement within the Supreme Court was whether racial minorities continued to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination. According to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. at the time “Our country has changed.”
I’ll leave it to you to decide whether “Our Country has changed”.
Voting matters. The power of being able to vote lies not only in the practical, in giving people an opportunity to elect candidates of their choosing, but also through the sense of dignity it gives to those who are able to exercise it. Withholding the right to vote was a reminder to those excluded that they were not whole; they were un-American; they we nobodies. Indeed, throughout our country’s history, the right to vote was denied to white men without property, African-American’s, women, Native Americans, Latinos, and adults under 21 years of age.
OK, now that we have discussed The Voting Rights Act of 1965, let’s talk about what the Republicans are doing as we speak to suppress the vote around the country.
Fueled by loyalists who embrace Donald Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election, Republicans in state legislatures nationwide are mounting extraordinary efforts to change the rules of voting and representation – and enhance their own political clout.
• The Brennan Center for Justice counted 243 bills in 43 states that seek to tighten voting rules.
• Keeping in mind that Iowa has not been a participant in the past decade’s wars over voting and election rules, but believing that the national election was stolen, the state legislature voted this week to cut early voting by nine days, close polls an hour earlier, and tighten absentee voting rules.
• Republicans in Georgia lined up this week behind a State Senate bill reminiscent of the Jim Crow Era that would require vote-by-mail applications to be made under oath, with some requiring an additional ID and a witness signature.
• Arizona Republicans are backing bills to curtail the automatic mailing of absentee ballots to voters who skip elections, and are trying to raise the threshold to approve citizen based ballot initiatives to 60%. One Arizona Republican has proposed legislation that would allow state lawmakers to ignore the results of presidential elections and decide themselves which candidate would receive the state’s electoral votes.