In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Considered among the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history, the VRA significantly widened the franchise and continued to provide far-reaching protection of minority voting rights. Since it was first passed, the VRA has been reauthorized and amended five times with large, bipartisan majorities. In fact, in 2006, the Act passed the United States Senate 98-0.
But that was before the Republican Party devolved into an anti-democratic cult, beholden not to the Constitution, nor the American people, but to a twice-impeached former president, who continues to promote the Big Lie. Ever since former President Trump falsely claimed that there was massive fraud involved in the 2020 election, Republican state legislatures around the country have attempted to “fix” their voting systems in order to “ensure their integrity” going forward. The fact that it has been demonstrably proven, beyond doubt, that the 2020 election was both fair and accurate, the truth has not deterred their cynical attack on voting rights – not to ensure honesty, but to game the system in order to either seize or retain power in future elections. Some have characterized this endeavor as a “slow-moving coup.”
Between January 1 and December 7 of 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access were introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions. And in a new trend this year, legislators introduced bills to allow partisan actors to interfere with election processes or even reject election results entirely. At least 13 bills restricting access to voting have been pre-filed for the 2022 legislative session in four states. In addition, at least 152 restrictive voting bills in 18 states will carry over from 2021.
The good news is that Congress has the power to reverse and restrict these assaults on democracy. Article 1 Section 4 of the Constitution states that while the “times, places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State. . . the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations.”
In January 2022, the House of Representatives combined two important bills that, together, would vastly extend and expand each citizen’s right and ability to vote: the Freedom to Vote Act, which is supported by 70 percent of Americans, and the John R. Lewis Act, which aims to increase equitable access, transparency, and accountability in American elections.
But just as what occurred in Republican-controlled state legislatures, the Trump-enamored Republicans in the House did not cast a single vote for these popular and necessary measures, and in the Senate, every Republican member, plus two recalcitrant Democrats, doomed the combined bill when they voted to keep in place the outdated and anti-democratic filibuster rule which prevented the bill from even coming to a vote.
This is an unacceptable situation. Democracy is teetering on the edge in America and Congress must assert its right to counter any and all state laws that restrict or limit the right to vote and any measure that jeopardizes the fair and non-partisan counting of ballots. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Democracies tend to die from the inside when its citizens don’t work to defend it. We need to protect the right to vote. Now’s the time!