We live in the greatest democracy on the planet. The recent Fourth of July holiday was an opportunity to reflect on what makes America great, such as our aspirations and values. Our founding documents speak to a union where we all come to the table of democracy as equals. But, any honest look at the state of our democracy today reflects something quite different.
While COVID-19 protocols enabled a more robust voter participation with more mail-in and early voting, dozens of states have since moved to tighten restrictions on voting. Much of this is enabled by the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder and other recent cases. Some have called the latest wave of voter suppression laws “Jim Crow 2.0.” We are clearly seeing the greatest threat to voting rights since the Civil War. As Stacey Abrams has so eloquently pointed out before: “…This is no longer a question of partisanship. It is not a question of which party is electing their leaders. It’s a question of citizenship, who has the right to be heard in our nation.”
As a result of barriers put in place leading up to the 2020 presidential election, one-third of eligible voters, approximately 77 million Americans, did not vote in the election. Of course, well before the coronavirus outbreak and 2020 elections, the U.S. already struggled with voter participation through a tortuous system of state laws and procedures designed to suppress the vote. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only Florida, Georgia and North Carolina permitted “no-excuse” absentee voting in the South. No southern states have same-day voter registration policies, with the exception of North Carolina’s limited same-day voter registration during the early voting period. And voter registration among people of color in southern states continues to be stifled by a combination of strict voter identification laws, disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions, purges of registered voters, polling location closures, and failures to provide required language assistance.
It’s vital that Congress enact baseline rules to ensure that every eligible American can vote safely, securely, and accessibly. At the federal level, we have advocated for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and broader electoral reforms as part of the For The People Act. Without some sort of federal standard, states must do more to protect every American’s right to vote.
Without action in D.C., states across the South are having to get creative. Just this past week, a contingent of Texas legislators walked out in protest to prevent more restrictive, voter suppression legislation. While some have criticized the tactic, we must use whatever leverage we have to protect our democracy.
The guiding principle at the state and federal levels should be that our democracy is strongest when we all vote. The right to vote is the foundation of democracy. More people voting safely and legally is good for all of us.
PS: For more information on voting laws in states and a state-by-state guide to voting rights litigation, check out our partners at Democracy Docket.
Founder & President, E Pluribus Unum