Voting rights: The safety pin that holds America together

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As we welcome 2022 on this New Year’s Day, we not only take stock of all the trials and triumphs we’ve experienced over the past 12 months but also look forward to the next 12 with hope and resolution.

Jan. 1 is not always the easiest day, especially now that so many of us feel more than a little frayed because of COVID’s quick-spreading omicron variant, the economy hobbled by inflation and many businesses unable to find workers, and the political and social divisions that continue to pull Americans in various directions.

I know because I feel it, too — and it’s not just us.

From education to health care, the environment and infrastructure, criminal justice, racial equality and more, this 245-year-old fabric known as America is being pulled in so many different directions, and those pulls are perhaps stronger than ever before.

But the good news is that there is one safety pin that can keep this fabric from being pulled apart: voting rights.

That’s the beauty of our form of government, because those interests are not left to their own devices to escalate their political tug-of-war to a disastrous conclusion. At the end of the day, all of these political and social institutions must answer to us, the American people.

Unfortunately, Newton’s third law of motion — “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” — historically has applied to politics, as well. That’s why every election that is distinguished by handsome turnout, particularly in communities that look like mine with many minority voters, is met with renewed efforts to limit voter engagement and ballot access.

In other words, whenever people raise their voices, a new movement rises to silence them.

This is nothing new to our time, of course. When Reconstruction brought landmark enfranchisement for former slaves, Jim Crow laws met them at voter registration offices with poll taxes and literacy tests asking them to count jelly beans in jars or to predict how many bubbles might be in a piece of bubble gum.

Those were the roadblocks that my grandparents’ generation faced. For my generation, it was meeting 2008’s historic turnout for Barack Obama’s election to the White House with new voter ID laws and neutralizing the Voting Rights Act.

Given that history, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the 2020 voter groundswell prompted an equal and opposite push for voter suppression, with hundreds of bills to restrict voting rights and resources introduced in at least 48 states.

And such restrictions aren’t an empty threat: GOP-controlled legislatures in 19 states passed 33 of those laws as of October 2021.

Just think about it. In 2020, Americans faced violent division, increased intimidation and the deadliest pandemic since 1918 to cast their ballots by the kind of numbers we haven’t seen in a century. But rather than praising them for their dedication to civic responsibility and patriotism, GOP leaders in states such as Georgia, Iowa, Kansas and Texas — and more — actually will make it more difficult for people to vote by targeting mail-in ballots, early voting and voter registration efforts — the very efforts that made 2020’s turnout possible. 

Here’s another way of looking at it. For 55 million Americans, the passed and proposed laws would either make it harder to vote or outright deny the vote. That’s roughly one-third of those who voted in 2020.

Look, there’s nothing more non-partisan and fundamentally American than the right to vote. Clearly, however, some in the GOP don’t see it that way. They’d rather eliminate democracy’s final failsafe — that one thing that must hold even if all else fails.

Why might they want to pull the safety pin so the fabric of America rips apart? It’s the only way they can win elections. 

So there’s really only one question before us: Will we let this happen?

I say no. We can’t let these laws pass. We can’t let 2022 become the year that true democracy in America died. We must make voting rights a priority, immediately.

Now is the time for American greatness to show itself again — not just for this midterm elections year, but for all the years ahead.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.

Tags Barack Obama Election law Elections Voter suppression Voting Voting Rights Act

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