The fight against racially-motivated voter suppression must continueMarc Morial, Esq. / February 11, 2021
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“There are some politicians that are very concerned about the historic turnout that we saw in the 2020 election and are determined to put barriers in front of the ballot box to try and give themselves a job security play. There are some politicians who are trying to manipulate the rules of the game so some people can participate and some people can’t.”
— Myrna Pérez, director of voting rights and elections, the Brennan Center
No matter how many lies politicians tell about nonexistent voter fraud, someone always manages to blurt out the truth.
“They’ve got to change the major parts of them [voting laws] so that we at least have a shot at winning,” said Alice O’Lenick, the chair of the board of elections in Gwinnett County, Georgia.
Black Americans voted in record numbers in Georgia and other states in 2020. White politicians are hard at work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Using “The Big Lie” of voter fraud as a pretext, state senators in Georgia this week introduced nine bills designed to make it harder for people to vote, eliminating automatic voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and mail ballot drop boxes, banning third-party groups from sending mail ballot applications, and prohibiting people who move to Georgia after the general election from voting in runoff elections.
Every one of these proposals would affect Black voters disproportionately.
In a bit of sad irony, the bills were introduced the very same day the news broke that voting rights advocate Stacy Abrams was nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her work to promote nonviolent change via the ballot box.
Georgia’s avalanche of racially-motivated voter suppression legislation isn’t even close to the worst in the nation. Of the 28 states where a total of 106 voter suppression bills have been introduced, pre-filed, or carried over, Pennsylvania leads with 14.
Pennsylvania also is unique in that it is the only state where legislators are trying to reverse voting reforms they themselves brought about. A bipartisan majority in the Pennsylvania General Assembly in October 2019 overwhelmingly voted to relax registration deadlines and make voting by mail available to all voters.
In Arizona, where a majority of voters have cast ballots early in a system that has existed for more than a decade, lawmakers are pushing several bills to curtail or end early voting, including eliminating the list of voters who are automatically sent mail-in ballots, and requiring signatures on early ballots to be notarized. Other proposals would dramatically shrink the number of polling locations. The state’s largest county, Maricopa, would have only 15 instead of the 100 it had in November.
But the most breathtakingly anti-democratic bill introduced in Arizona – possibly anywhere in the country – can hardly be called voter suppression as it seeks to bypass voters entirely. Rep. Shawnna Bolick has introduced legislation that would allow the legislature to disregard the results of a presidential election and appoint electors of its own choosing to the Electoral College. Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts called the bill “the most arrogant power grab I have ever witnessed.”
Fortunately, there is a way to put an end to racially-motivated voter suppression at the state level. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would require any state with a history of voting discrimination within the past 25 years to seek federal approval before making any changes to its voting procedures. Further, it would mandate that any state, regardless of its history, receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C., before making any changes that would disproportionately burden voters of color, such as strict voter ID laws or closing polling places in areas with large numbers of voters of color.
As President Lyndon Johnson said when he signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, “Men cannot live with a lie and not be stained by it.” The Big Lie of voter fraud has stained the nation. Passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act can redeem it.
Marc H. Morial is the president of the National Urban League.