Ask Americans what their top priorities are, and they’ll say making the economy strong, tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, creating and maintaining jobs, ensuring people have access to affordable health care, supporting education, defending against terrorism and improving the political system.
Our representatives won’t truly represent us, and what matters to us, if we shut our fellow citizens out of the process of voting.
Of all of these vitally important issues, only one is the foundational issue in our democracy: ensuring that we all have access to the ballot and that elections are free of suppression and subversion. It’s true that you can’t feed your family paper ballots and you can’t pay your doctor in voter registration forms. But it’s also true that our representatives won’t truly represent us, and what matters to us, if we shut our fellow citizens out of the process of voting.
Our democracy is based on the fundamental principle that all eligible citizens must have access to the ballot box and that each of those votes be given equal weight. A representative system of government lacks legitimacy if it fails to allow its citizens to pick who represents them. Why should we give any credence to the decisions of a president, a senator or a member of the House who got the job through a farcical election that blocked some from voting? Or, to put it another way: If our elected officials rigged the system and suppressed our votes to get or keep their gigs, why should we give them any authority?
This is why we must all turn to Wednesday’s failed attempt to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and make its eventual passage our first, second, third and fourth priorities. You don’t build a house until you have the blueprints. You don’t build a democracy without ensuring the right to vote.
Every single Republican in the Senate voted against even having a debate about the Freedom to Vote Act, which is already a compromised and whittled-down version of its former self. Again for the folks in back: Every single member of the Republican Party who serves in our nation’s top legislative chamber is a big “no” on even discussing ways to protect the right to vote. This is partisanship at its absolute worst. This is the epitome of party before country.
It’s a funny thing to be in the position of begging our elected officials to protect our ability to freely and fairly elect them. But we’re here because Republicans have proposed and passed a raft of restrictive voting laws in states throughout the country. These laws would make it harder to vote by measures such as implementing strict voter-identification requirements, reducing or eliminating early voting, making it harder to register to vote or to vote by mail, and moving polling places.
Republicans will claim that these laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. But let’s say it one or, if needed, 330 million more times for every person who lives in this country: There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in our elections. Republicans also claim that the For the People Act represents federal overreach; never mind that history demonstrates why the federal government is needed to step in and secure the right to vote. Restrictive voting laws seek to solve the problem of Republicans’ losing elections; they are not designed to bolster the integrity of our elections.
We don’t need new restrictive state laws to protect our right to vote. We need new federal legislation to protect us from the restrictive voting laws.
Enter the Freedom to Vote Act.
It would push back against some state efforts to make voting less accessible. The bill tackles the twin problems of voter suppression and the influence of money in politics. With respect to voting rights, the bill would, among other things, implement automatic and same-day voter registration (allowing people to opt out, instead of making them opt in), make it easier to vote by mail, increase early voting, lessen the impact of some restrictive voter identification laws, make Election Day a federal holiday, increase punishments for those who engage in voting intimidation, and attempt to reduce partisan gerrymandering. As to the issue of money in politics, the bill would create a voluntary system of public campaign financing, increase campaign finance disclosure and reorganize the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission.
Democrats and voters must play hardball and understand the importance of meaningful election reform.
Former President Donald Trump understands the importance of repeating the “big lie” of election fraud over and over again. Just last week, at a rally in Iowa, he said, “The single biggest issue — the issue that gets the most pull, the most respect, the biggest cheers — is talking about the election fraud of 2020’s presidential election.” Republicans understand the importance of blocking legislation to ensure access to the ballot.
Now Democrats and voters must play hardball and understand the importance of meaningful election reform. It is time for voters to demand that their elected officials explain why we shouldn’t even proceed with a vote on the Freedom to Vote Act. We must ask our elected officials which provisions, specifically, they oppose and why. Why, for instance, should we not make it easier for people to register to vote and then give them more options for how and when to vote? We know these reforms don’t threaten the safety and integrity of our elections. Could it simply be that these reforms threaten the continued viability of Republicans?
There are so many deeply and immediately pressing issues facing our country. But for this moment, we must focus on the foundational one. By definition, the seed of our democracy is the right to vote. The right to vote is the right that leads to everything else we care about: a strong economy, an end to the pandemic, accessible health care and superior education.
Democrats control the White House, the House and the Senate. This is a once-in-a-generation moment. Democrats, abolish the filibuster. Pass true voting rights protections. Ensure that our grand experiment in self-governance continues. It is not a foregone conclusion that it will.