None of Our Ambitions Are Possible Without a Guaranteed Right to Vote

During her response to the State of the Union address Tuesday night, Stacey Abrams said this:

Let’s be clear. Voter suppression is real. From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls, to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy.

While I acknowledge the results of the 2018 election here in Georgia, I did not and we cannot accept efforts to undermine our right to vote. That’s why I started a nonpartisan organization called Fair Fight to advocate for voting rights. This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have their say about the vision we want for our country.

We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a power grab. Americans understand that these are the values our brave men and women in uniform and our veterans risk their lives to defend.

The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders, not where politicians pick their voters.

The organization Abrams started, Fair Fight, has followed through by filling a federal law suit against the state of Georgia in an effort to overhaul their “gross mismanagement” of elections and ask a judge to intervene to protect voting rights.

According to a report in the Associated Press, Abrams and Fair Fight are about to get some major assistance in those efforts.

With the 2020 presidential election on the horizon, one of the largest outside Democratic groups announced on Thursday a $30 million effort to register voters, push ballot measures that expand voter rights and fight Republican-backed laws in court that restrict ballot access.

“At every stage of the game, Republican and conservative state legislatures around the country, when they are given the opportunity, make it more difficult for people to vote,” Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, told The Associated Press. “Essentially what you have are the descendants of Jim Crow who are trying to make it difficult for people to reach the ballot box.”…

Much of the money Priorities plans to spend will be directed toward litigation, Cecil said. It’s an area where they had considerable success in the run-up to last fall’s midterms, blunting the impact of election laws in Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Florida and New Hampshire…

Now Priorities is turning its attention to Georgia and Texas, states that have both drawn recent scrutiny over claims of voter fraud.

The focus on Georgia and Texas might have something to do with fighting recent claims of voter fraud. But I’d suggest that it is also related to the fact that these are two states (the other being Arizona) where higher turnout among voters of color could have a significant impact on turning them from red to blue.

The efforts by Abrams and Priorities USA line up well with an overall focus on voting rights that has been included in the Democrats’ “For the People Act” (or H.R.1).

  • Voter registration would be made easier. Citizens could register online or get registered automatically, via data from driver’s licenses or other government sources. For federal elections, states would have to provide same-day registration and at least 15 days of early voting. Election Day would be a federal holiday.
  • The bill would crack down on efforts to take voters off the rolls or prevent them from casting ballots. Felons could regain their voting rights after finishing their sentences.
  • Federal elections would require paper ballots to prevent computer tampering. State chief election officials couldn’t get involved in federal campaigns.
  • The bill would declare an intent to revive core anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were effectively shut down by the Supreme Court six years ago. It would also state that failing to vote isn’t grounds for taking away a person’s voter registration.

Those are the kinds of reforms that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed as a “power grab” by Democrats. While the monied interests in Washington might agree, I don’t think mocking the right of people to vote is a winning issue among the American public.

That’s why it is encouraging to see Democrats making this issue a priority for both congress and the courts. During her speech on Tuesday night, Abrams referenced many of the issues the party has prioritized: a quality education, gun safety measures, economic security, immigration reform, expanding health care, and taking action on climate change. But as she said, “none of these ambitions are possible without the bedrock guarantee of our right to vote.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.