Preserving and expanding voting rights in a time of repression

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There are few minimum national standards on how elections should be conducted, such as setting deadlines for registration or a deadline for early voting. This allows state governments to adopt their own procedures, including those that take away the right to vote.

Last month, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which aimed to protect and expand voting rights, failed to pass the Senate when two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, declined to support rule changes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Congress’ failure to pass the bill leaves suffrage legislation in political turmoil as states – including New Hampshire, Texas and Georgia – propose new laws that critics say will make harder for people, especially people of color, to exercise their right to vote.

Local activists leading the suffrage charge told Phillip Martin about basic black that it’s not just states like Georgia where voter suppression is happening, and Massachusetts isn’t immune to these issues.

“It’s not a regional problem. It’s a national problem,” said Renée Graham, associate editor and opinion columnist at The Boston Globe. “And I think the most toxic thing that’s happened in this discussion is how the right to vote has become partisan. Democracy isn’t partisan.”

Graham said the fight for suffrage did not go away after the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, but she said it has intensified in recent years.

“I constantly think of the people in the history of this nation who died for the right to vote. People were murdered trying to ensure the right to vote for all. … The fact that we are even having this conversation is absolutely discouraging when you think of where this country has been.”

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE, pointed out that lawmakers play an important role in breaking down barriers to voting. She used the example of the State House last week in passing a voting access bill that did not include same-day voter registration — something that already exists in 20 other states and in Washington, D.C.

“I think we’re approaching this situation on the ground by making sure we put the right lawmakers in place who represent us,” Crawford said.

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, noted three key strategies for voter suppression in the United States: restricting access to the ballot, creating a culture of fear and militarize administrative processes. around the vote.

These administrative changes involve “creating and legalizing something that seems innocuous on the face of it, but in fact infringement weakens the process,” Brown said.

In addition to concerns about access to ballots, activists say lawmakers need to do more to protect against voter intimidation. Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston, said on Election Day his organization received reports that people at polling sites were shouting profanities and racial epithets at Cambodian American voters online. .

“We need to exercise not just voting rights protections, but also state laws, to really prosecute bad actors and make sure polling places remain accessible and safe for everyone to vote in a meaningful way,” Espinoza-Madrigal mentioned.

Watch: Activists on basic black discuss obstacles to the right to vote

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