In America, of all places, your right to vote shouldn’t depend on where you live. But states where it’s been historically difficult to exercise this fundamental democratic right, like Texas, are trying to make it even harder to vote based on the Big Lie of a stolen election. The need for federal intervention to protect voting rights and guard against partisan gerrymandering gets clearer by the day.
Under the Constitution, Congress has the right to set new voting rules that states must comply with, just as it did in the 1960s when it forced Southern states to abandon racist voting practices enacted after the Civil War.
After signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” More than five decades later, that instrument needs federal protection again.
Between January 1 and July 14, according to new Brennan Center research, more than 400 bills that included provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states. During that same time, 18 states have enacted 30 laws that make it harder for people to vote. The laws make mail voting and early voting more difficult. They impose harsh voter ID requirements. They make purging eligible voters from the rolls more likely. I could go on.
These laws 一 disingenuously marketed as “election integrity” 一 were passed and signed into law by nearly 20 governors despite absolutely no evidence of widespread fraud.
Worse, the great suppression campaign of 2021 isn’t over yet. Regular legislative sessions continue in eight states, and Texas is in the middle of a special session. The Lonestar State seems destined to impose harsh new voter restrictions in a state infamous for its already draconian voting rules and regulations. Though Democratic state representatives fled the state to stop the passage of voting restrictions, including two big and bad bills, Gov. Greg Abbot has promised to call special session after special session until the lawmakers return.
The story of states that have expanded voting rights is worth telling, too. As of July 14, 25 states have enacted 54 laws that make it easier to vote. Some provisions expand early and mail voting. Others make it easier to register to vote. Three states have restored voting rights to people with past convictions.
Soon, members of Congress will have two pieces of legislation before them that would significantly blunt the impact of this new era of restrictive voting laws. The For the People Act, which already passed the House, would create a national standard for voting access in federal elections. No-excuse vote by mail. Two weeks of early voting. A ban on gerrymandering. A much-needed overhaul of campaign finance laws. Automatic and same-day voter registration and more. The soon-to-be introduced John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would update the Voting Rights Act, once again making jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination receive clearance from the Justice Department and the courts before they can pass new voting rules.
It’s time for President Biden to meet this moment with the urgency it deserves. He needs to be this generation’s LBJ, using his bully pulpit to get this vital civil rights legislation passed before it’s too late.