Voting Rights Act debate hangs over DC: Crain’s DC Memo

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Ed Yohnka recalled that not so long ago, the right to vote was a non-partisan issue.

“I remember when the Voting Rights Act was renewed under the George W. Bush II administration with overwhelming bipartisan support,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois spokesperson said earlier this week. on Martin Luther King Day, which has become a rallying point for efforts to restore law in Congress.

The fourth renewal of the original 1965 law was passed in 2006 by a vote of 390 to 33 in the United States House and a unanimous 98 to 0 vote in the Senate, including future President Barack Obama, then Representative of Illinois.

“Despite the progress these states have made in upholding the right to vote, it is clear that problems still exist,” Obama said at the time.

None other than Republican Senator Lindsey Graham agreed, saying of his own home state, “South Carolinians, you have come a long way. But we, like all other regions of this country, still have a long way to go. »

President Bush promised to vigorously defend the law in court, and its renewal was to last 25 years, in what is now the next decade.

How times have changed.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court undermined the Justice Department’s power to oversee state election laws in 2013, suffrage has become an increasingly partisan issue — a division abundant only within the Illinois congressional delegation.

When the House last week passed the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act — a hybrid of complementary suffrage bills — Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston applauded it, saying, “Our democracy is attacked. We have witnessed the worst election crackdown since the Jim Crow era. We have seen corporations and the ultra-rich exert undue influence. We have seen foreign actors interfere in our elections. It’s time to give power back to the people.

Senator Dick Durbin echoed that, saying, “Right now, millions of American voters are facing a new wave of voter suppression laws, and just as supporters of Jim Crow laws did to their time, Republican state legislators are now erecting new barriers. at the polls, clinging to the myth of “widespread electoral fraud”. … The reality is that the laws they pass in these states are not intended to prevent voter fraud. They aim to prevent eligible Americans from voting.

Yet Republican Reps. Darin LaHood of Dunlap and Mike Bost of Murphysboro denounced the bill as an attempt to “federalize elections,” Rodney Davis of Taylorville called it a “Democrat-manufactured voting rights crisis.” and Mary Miller of Oakland called him “Democrats.” ‘final power grab’, saying it would ‘eliminate ballot security’ as (still the Border Guard) she dragged recent proposals to New York to allow all residents, not just US citizens, to vote on local issues.

The hybrid bill nationalizes motorized voter registration, makes Election Day a statutory holiday, sets basic standards for election times, mail-in ballots and ballot boxes, bans gerrymandering, calls on black money political action committees to disclose donors and “restore the full force of the Voting Rights Act,” according to a fact sheet distributed by proponents. But he faces a seemingly final showdown at the Senate today, with Sens Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona opposed to lifting the Senate filibuster to allow passage, despite support for the tactic expressed last week by both presidents Biden and Obama.

The ACLU’s Yohnka spoke strongly in favor of renewing the franchise, citing recently enacted laws in red states on “two serious setbacks”: efforts to deny racial minorities “fair access by ballot” and also giving legislatures the right to void elections. Calling it “a kind of regressive behavior that takes us back to a time that we all thought we were past,” he said, “I think there’s a precariousness here in really formalizing the idea that we’re going to have a minority government.” He added: “This idea that we are somehow going to fundamentally change the very notion of what democracy looks like is really dangerous.”

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Republicans who insist the ACLU may not be the most disinterested arbiter on this issue might instead want to heed the warnings of John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. . “The debate over preserving and protecting voting rights must transcend partisan bickering and must unite both sides,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats should not only support, but insist on measures that will make it easier for Americans to vote and ensure that all votes are counted and recorded fairly. The legitimacy of our democracy depends on it. This is the most important domestic problem currently facing the country. It is also an urgent matter of national security. The world is watching the United States.

Then there’s Alisa Kaplan, executive director of the staunchly nonpartisan group Reform for Illinois. “The need for this law is clear,” she said. “All we have to do is look at how many states have enacted laws making it harder to vote since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, or how many have decided to drop their districts in the ‘oversight. Some of these attempts will fail in court, but this process can take years and by the time it is completed, the damage has already been done.

She added: “This should not be a partisan issue. Both parties should want to make it easier for citizens to vote, and both parties should want constituencies that fairly represent voters instead of benefiting one political faction or another. It’s just the basis of a healthy democracy.

Durbin spoke most explicitly in the Senate on Tuesday. “Today our democracy needs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to regain its full power and potential,” he said. “In the past year alone, Republican legislatures in nearly 20 states have enacted laws making it harder for Americans to vote. In total, more than 440 bills with voting restrictions have been introduced in 49 states, with more on the way as the 2022 legislative session begins. These efforts represent the most coordinated assault on the voting rights since the Voting Rights Act was first passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“Members of this Senate have a constitutional obligation to respond to these state voting laws,” he added. “And that means making sure the constitutional right to vote is protected by federal law and fully enforceable. It also means setting national standards that ensure that every eligible voter can participate in our democracy. These remedies and protections must be available in all states, red and blue, from New York to Arizona. »

Durbin echoed Yohnka saying, “It hasn’t been that long since Republicans and Democrats came together and agreed that this was the right thing to do, to make sure there was no discrimination against American voters. The last time we did so was 16 years ago, in 2006, and almost unanimously. … One of the Republicans who voted for him was the senior Kentucky senator, now the Republican leader, who said at the time, when he voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006, ‘It’s a piece of legislation that worked.’ Well, let’s make sure it can keep working.

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