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Analysis

The Fight to Vote

The stakes are incredibly high in the Senate battle over voting rights reform.

January 19, 2022
Citizens wait in line to vote
Spencer Platt/Getty

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It is a week of high drama in the Senate. Will our govern­ment defend voting rights and uphold fair elec­tions through­out the coun­try? If it becomes clear that Congress cannot act because of the fili­buster, ever, and the courts step back, then states will have an open invit­a­tion to viol­ate the rights of their citizens.   

As the debate unfolds, unctu­ous voices will purr that there’s not really much at stake. That’s wrong.

Gerry­man­der­ing is reshap­ing legis­lat­ive maps across the coun­try. A new Bren­nan Center report docu­ments an unpre­ced­en­ted bid to under­mine the polit­ical power of Black, Latino, Asian, and Native Amer­ican communit­ies. At the same time, the maps decrease compet­i­tion in Repub­lican-controlled states.  

Look at North Caro­lina, a closely divided battle­ground state. Repub­lic­ans conver­ted a congres­sional map that elec­ted 8 Repub­lic­ans and 5 Demo­crats into one that could elect 11 Repub­lic­ans and just 3 Demo­crats. Even if Demo­crats win most of the vote, they might get less than a third of the seats. A state that is one-fifth Black might have only a single Black member of Congress come Janu­ary. 

Last year 19 states passed 34 laws making it harder to vote. There’s more to come, with dozens of restrict­ive bills pre-filed or carried over for action this year. Some are truly dysto­pian. A new bill in New Hamp­shire (H.B. 1567) would let citizens sue to remove elec­tion offi­cials they don’t like. And in Missouri, S.B. 695 would require an elec­tion audit based on a peti­tion signed by just 5 percent of registered voters.

Often these bad bills become bad laws. Last week, because of Texas’s new stat­ute, one of its most popu­lous counties rejec­ted about half the absentee ballot requests for the upcom­ing primary.  

All this will likely worsen a racial turnout gap. A Bren­nan Center report found that in 2020, nearly 71 percent of white voters cast ballots compared to only 58 percent of nonwhite voters. And in all but one of the states that were once covered by the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court gutted, the gap between white and Black voters grew markedly.  

And now Flor­ida Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed estab­lish­ing a special police force to over­see state elec­tions — the first of its kind in the nation accord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post. A hand­picked police force, report­ing to the governor, intim­id­at­ing elec­tion offi­cials and maybe voters: what could go wrong?  

Don’t let oppon­ents of voting rights gaslight you. Voter suppres­sion and race discrim­in­a­tion aren’t just real — they’re a strategy. With midterm elec­tions fast approach­ing, swift passage of the Free­dom to Vote: John Lewis Voting Rights Act is the most effect­ive and compre­hens­ive way to protect our demo­cracy from the forces trying to under­mine it.