- Black Democrats who helped Joe Biden win are frustrated with the lack of progress on voting rights.
- Despite the White House and Congress, Democrats failed to pass federal suffrage laws.
- “You kinda wonder…why is this happening?” a member of the Democratic National Committee told Insider.
As the midterms near, black Democrats who backed Joe Biden in the 2020 election are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress on protecting access to the vote, one of the president’s main promises during his presidential campaign.
More than a year into his presidency and a Democratic monopoly of Congress, the Biden administration has yet to pass a major piece of suffrage legislation into law, though access to the ballot is a major concern for the Democratic Party, especially its black voters.
Steve Phillips, co-founder of media and policy group Democracy in Color, said the Biden administration is doing “very” poorly.
“They do next to nothing to defend democracy and the right to vote,” Phillips said.
For black activists, it makes little sense that the Biden government’s trifecta has so far failed to yield results on voting rights.
“You kind of wonder, well, we have the White House. We have the House. We have the Senate. Why is this happening?” Adrianne George, a Democratic National Committee member who represents Americans living abroad, told Insider at a party meeting in Washington in early March.
Black voters, who throughout U.S. history have faced disproportionate obstacles to voting, including poll taxes, violent intimidation, and outright bans, have reliably voted Democratic over the past few years. last decades. Black Democrats in South Carolina voted overwhelmingly for Biden in the 2020 primary season and are credited with securing a victory that resurrected Biden’s campaign and set him on his ultimate path to the White House.
Biden’s campaign website included a lengthy policy memo titled “Lift every voice: The Biden plan for Black America.” Biden’s plan included restoring sections of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, making it easier to vote by allowing same-day voter registration and urging states to restore voting rights. vote of people who have committed crimes after serving their sentence. phrasing.
However, these promises did not materialize at the federal level. Democrats had pinned their hopes on two bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Advancing Voting Rights Act. In January, Biden and congressional Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat on voting rights as two members of their own party — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — torpedoed legislation in the Senate. There has been little serious progress on the issue since.
Restrictions on Voting Rights in Conservative States
Since Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020, Republican-controlled states like Texas and Georgia have enacted new voting restrictions in the name of protecting election integrity. But Democratic activists say these laws are actually designed to restrict access for voters of color and give Republicans more power over election administration.
“There’s a frustration in the black community that people generally don’t understand, or don’t seem to understand, the right to vote, especially Republicans,” Democratic National Committee member and former mayor Lottie Shackelford told Insider. of Little Rock, Arkansas. . “They don’t understand the importance of voting, of having fair laws to vote for. It destroys everyone. It’s important to us.”
“There’s frustration there, but not so much with the president,” Shackleford said. “They just want to make sure the president is still doing everything in his power to help promote suffrage for everyone.”
Democracy in Color’s Phillips said he would like to see Biden use his bully pulpit to “wage a crusade for democracy” and encourage voting through means other than congressional legislation. He said the administration should look for creative avenues, like encouraging middle and high schools to enroll as many eligible students as possible, or working with businesses to build public pressure against states that have enacted voting restrictions. .
The concerns of some black activists about the Biden administration came to light in January, when Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Atlanta for a rally in support of the Democrats’ legislation that then was rejected. Civil rights leaders including Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton attended the speech.
But more than half a dozen voting rights groups boycotted the event, according to the Washington Post, arguing that Biden should prioritize getting results over speeches.
“We don’t need any more photo ops. We need action, and that action comes in the form of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as well as the Free Voting Act, and we need it immediately,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, according to CNN.
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, one of Democrats’ most famous suffrage activists, also skipped the event, citing a scheduling conflict.
Albright of Black Voters Matter told Insider this week that he thinks Biden “has underestimated the level of attacks coming from those who have demonstrated that they are absolutely willing to absolutely trash democracy and are afraid of maintain power”.
“Nothing happens overnight”
Two months later, strategists, activists and party members Insider spoke to said they were still disappointed with the lack of progress, despite continuing to support Biden.
Albright told Insider that the vice president’s office sometimes holds calls with suffrage activists, which he sees as a positive step in keeping the fight for federal suffrage legislation alive.
“Our biggest adversaries are the people who are actively suppressing our votes,” Albright said, referring to Republican candidates for Secretary of State who mistakenly believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
William Anderson, a community activist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, acknowledged that “no sitting president has done enough to advance our voting rights.”
The Biden administration had so far failed, Anderson said, but he added that “the president is making an effort.”
“There is so much conflict in the country and we understand that as a young African American man, nothing happens overnight,” Anderson said.
China Dickerson, a Democratic political strategist who has advised congressional candidates like Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois, told Insider the party needs to focus more on state-level battles where voting policy is actually defined.
“We don’t seem to be going anywhere in Congress with the right to vote,” Dickerson said. “We need to have Democrats as strategic as Republicans” to elect “top-down” candidates at the state level, such as state legislatures and secretaries of state, she said.
If passed, the Voting Rights Act and the John R. Lewis Advancing Voting Rights Act would have reinstated portions of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 and implemented several changes such as same-day voter registration. and improved mail-in voting policies, which Democrats say would make it easier for people to vote. But to get them into Biden’s office, Democrats needed to overcome a solid wall of Republican opposition by changing the Senate filibuster.
An attempt in January to change the filibuster rules failed because Manchin and Sinema voted against it, depriving the party of the 50-vote bloc it needed to change the rules.
After a last-minute meeting on Capitol Hill to convince Senate Democrats to change the filibuster, Biden candidly told reporters, “The honest answer to God is I don’t know if we can make it happen.” He did not try to do so using his executive powers.
“My frustration is with the Senate,” Texas State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from Houston, told Insider. “Congress must recognize that voting is a right, not a privilege.”