By Ben Jealous, President of People For the American Way
Lawmakers across the country in Republican states have been busy imposing new voting restrictions and devising corrupt redistribution plans to give their party more power than they could gain in a fair system.
Republicans in the U.S. Senate again protected such wrongdoing in October by using filibuster rules to prevent federal voting rights legislation from being debated. This is a political obstruction of justice, and President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats must not let it stand.
A day before Senate Republicans made it clear that they had no interest in protecting the franchise or a healthy democracy, 25 religious and civil rights leaders and voting rights activists were arrested outside the White House. Hundreds more joined us in solidarity as we walked, sang, prayed and called for stronger leadership from President Biden.
We know President Biden is a supporter of the right to vote. His moving speech at the National Constitution Center called voting rights a test of our time and brought moral clarity to our cause.
We now need presidential action that matches the urgency of Biden’s words and the urgency of our time.
In the eight years since the Supreme Court gutted the voting rights law, dozens of states have erected new barriers targeting black, brown, female and youth voters. A flurry of new laws were introduced this year after a record turnout contributed to the defeat of former President Donald Trump and the loss of Republican control in the Senate.
The new wave of voter suppression is a direct response to the high voter turnout last year. These laws do more than undermine democracy. They defile it. Rather than celebrating efforts to expand citizen participation, they seek to stifle it. Rather than extending the deductible, they are looking to reduce it.
The free vote law would overturn many of the new anti-election laws. It would expand access to postal and early voting, make voter registration automatic, and make polling day a federal holiday. Together, these measures will increase access to the vote for workers, black and brown voters, women and people with disabilities. The bill will also end abusive partisan redistribution and help prevent billionaires from buying our elections.
The Senate’s 50 Democrats support the free vote bill, as does Kamala Harris, our country’s first female vice president, who is ready to vote for the 51st. But Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell demanded that his colleagues prevent that vote from happening. They prevent the will of the people from being realized.
With voter suppression and partisan redistribution threatening next year’s election, we don’t have time to wait. The freedom to vote law must become law now.
President Biden must use all of his personal influence and the power of his office to protect voting rights. He must publicly call on Senate Democrats not to let Republicans resort to Jim Crow’s tactics to successfully block voting rights protections for our generation.
Those of us who have gathered in the White House are keenly aware of the generations of activists who put their bodies on the line to secure and expand the franchise, including the suffragists who were beaten for having the vote. daring to demand the right to vote for women and activists who risked and sometimes gave their lives to protect the suffrage of black Americans. And we know the critical role that the presidential leadership has played in overcoming resistance to the right to vote.
This is the time of the “good luck” that the late John Lewis called at the height of the civil rights movement. We will be back in the White House throughout the fall, in greater numbers, to demand that President Biden do whatever it takes to have voting rights legislation on his desk and enacted this year. .
Ben Jealous is president of People For the American Way.