It’s time to give Republicans the fight of their lives on voting rights
This week, resilient Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — an important bill that takes steps to strengthen our nation’s voting laws to ensure all Americans can have a say in our democracy — despite a great deal of political pressure against the bill.
This critical legislation comes following a coordinated campaign by Republicans in Georgia and in 17 other states that have enacted 30 new laws this year to further restrict voting rights. This strategy should be viewed as nothing more than a veiled attempt to keep nonwhite voters from participating in elections.
When legislators in Georgia passed restrictions on voting earlier this year, former gubernatorial candidate and Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams said, “We are seeing again and again this version of Jim Crow in a suit and tie, because it is designed explicitly for the same reason as Jim Crow [was], to block communities of color from active participation in choosing the leadership that will guide their democracy.”
After vote by mail ballot drop boxes, expanded early voting and expanded voting hours were implemented in red and blue states around the country in response to the pandemic, we saw record voter turnout nationally and among communities of color. In fact, turnout among Black, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women increased 10 percent in the 2020 election. And in Georgia, a state where President Biden won by a little over 11,000 votes, women of color represented 17 percent of the 2020 presidential primary electorate. It remains clear the immense electoral power of this critical voting bloc.
There is no question that restrictions on voting like the ones we saw in Georgia will depress voter turnout — particularly among nonwhite voters. In a recent public polling sponsored by reproductive justice collaborative Intersections of Our Lives, we learned that nearly 80 percent of women of color reported voting either by mail or early in-person. At the same time, two in five experienced issues while voting — including the 23 percent of Black women who were asked to show identification to vote and the 16 percent who experienced long voting lines at the polls.
It isn’t a coincidence that the very same voting options that drove voter turnout among people of color are the same policies Republican legislators around the country are seeking to eliminate.
The House has taken one step to bring an end to the wave of restrictions, but more must be done to advance policies that protect and expand the vote. The For the People Act, which was stalled in the Senate in June after passing the House, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would revive our democracy’s promise that all citizens have the opportunity to have their voices heard. Together, these bills would restore the Voting Rights Act and help to secure accessible voting across all 50 states. They would ensure disenfranchised communities could participate in our democracy without the threat of local officials undermining their rights.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pledged to bring up voting rights legislation in September and we are going to hold the senator to this commitment. Democrats campaigned on making voting more accessible, and six in 10 women of color voters are watching elected officials more closely now than during previous elections to make sure they deliver on these promises.
Black women and women of color are mobilized, and when we have access to the polls, we can deliver victories up and down the ballot. In 2020, we saw it in Georgia and across the U.S. I urge the Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the House and Senate to continue to prioritize voting rights legislation. Because we all deserve to have a say in our elections and the future of our country.
Marcela Howell is the president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.