Biden’s Georgia speech was a call to save democracy as we know it
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were right to sound the alarm in Atlanta today about Republican efforts to destroy American democracy by rigging elections in states around the country.
The threat to democracy that we face today is our generation’s Paul Revere moment. Just as Revere and other patriots rode through Massachusetts on the night of April 18, 1775, warning rebellious colonists that the British were coming to prevent the creation of American democracy, Biden and Harris have warned that Republicans are coming now to destroy our democratic processes.
But to stop Republicans from suppressing votes of Black and brown Americans and other voters who lean Democratic, the words of the president and vice president, albeit eloquent, are not enough. America desperately needs their eloquence to turn into specific actions to preserve our precious democracy.
Here are some of the actions that need to happen now to protect our right to vote: First and foremost, the Senate must heed Biden’s bold call to carve out an exception to the obstructionist Senate filibuster rule in order to make it possible for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority so that these bills can be signed into law by Biden.
The two bills enjoy the support of all 50 Democratic senators and Vice President Harris, who can cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. But the bills currently need 60 votes (requiring the support of 10 Republicans) to be considered under the filibuster rule, and the GOP has made it clear that this is impossible.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have so far stubbornly refused to repeal the filibuster rule. Democrats, particularly in West Virginia and Arizona, need to increase their efforts to get the two senators to at least carve out an exception to the filibuster rule for voting rights legislation because free and fair elections are vital to the preservation of our democracy.
Fittingly, the urgent warnings Tuesday from Biden and Harris on voting rights came less than a week before the federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated after dedicating his life to the struggle for voting rights and other equal rights for Black Americans.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 49 states introduced 440 bills “with provisions that restrict voting access.” A total of 34 such bills were signed into law in 19 states with Republican-controlled legislatures, and more bills remain under consideration.
These anti-democratic laws make it harder for people of color, poor people, young people and other Democratic-leaning voters to cast ballots. The laws make it more difficult to register to vote, reduce the number of locations where ballots can be cast and dropped off, put additional obstacles in the way of absentee voting and criminalize efforts by election administrators to assist voters.
In addition, Republicans in some states are replacing nonpartisan elections officials with GOP zealots who support defeated former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that he won the 2020 presidential election and was robbed of victory by a vast conspiracy of Democratic and Republican election officials. This absurd claim fueled the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that sought to overturn Biden’s victory and resulted in the deaths of at least nine people, including four officers who died by suicide following the attack, and injuries to more than 100 others.
Not surprisingly, Trump is supporting Republican candidates for secretary of state, governor and other offices in November 2022 who support his Big Lie, in a clear effort to change the outcome of future elections when he and other Republicans lose. God forbid if such officials had been in place in 2020 they would have accepted Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, subverted the will of the American people and took it upon themselves to award Trump enough electoral votes to give him another term in office.
The Freedom to Vote Act would block many of the voter suppression and election-rigging laws Republicans have enacted and are threatening to enact at the state level. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named in honor of the late, great civil rights leader and Democratic congressman from Georgia, would restore and update protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were recently struck down by a conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court.
Without congressional action on voting rights, it will be up to the U.S. Department of Justice and state governments to be on the frontlines to save our democracy. Regrettably, we know that many Republican state officials will be AWOL from this battle.
It was a major honor of my life to play a key role in the effort to rally public and Congressional support to win approval for the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday in 1983. But we can’t honor this great American if we allow the voting rights he worked so hard to achieve to be trampled on and destroyed.
“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said in 1968, less than a week before he was assassinated. We must not let that arc bend toward the injustice of voter suppression.
Donna Brazile is a political strategist, a contributor to ABC News and former chair of the Democratic National Committee. She is the author of “Hacks: Inside the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the number of officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6 that later died by suicide and to correct the number of people injured on Jan. 6.