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Protecting the freedom to vote should be a bipartisan issue

‘I Voted’ stickers are seen at an early voting polling site at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax, Va., on Thursday, September 23, 2021.
Greg Nash

There is no tradition we Americans hold more sacred than the freedom to vote in free and fair elections. It is a freedom that we must preserve and protect. No matter your political ideology, zip code, skin color or gender — we are a government of the people, by the people, for the people. 

Unfortunately, we are facing numerous threats to this freedom across the nation as some states seek to implement new measures that, in the most extreme cases, make it harder for people to vote. 

The misguided provisions of these new laws are a solution in search of a problem. The Department of Homeland Security said the 2020 election was the most secure ever. But these new laws hurt all Americans, across the political spectrum. 

Thanks to the work of heroic local election officials, we got through the 2020 election with the highest turnout in nearly a century amidst the pandemic. Our elected officials should be focused on making it easier for eligible Americans to safely cast their ballots — not rolling back popular and secure voting methods or limiting when and where you can vote.  

That’s why I was heartened to see the House recently pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill is named after a civil rights giant, the late Rep.John Lewis (D-Ga.), widely revered by Americans for his life’s relentless pursuit of justice. It is fitting that this bill, carrying his name, will once again reaffirm what he and so many like him fought, bled and died for.  

If signed into law, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prevents discriminatory voting policies and makes sure that changes to voting laws that could discriminate against voters based on race or background are federally reviewed.

To my fellow Republicans in the Senate, who will soon consider this legislation’s future: this should not be a difficult decision. 

Historically, the Voting Rights Act has been embraced by both Republicans and Democrats. Since its original passage, this landmark piece of legislation has been reauthorized five times, all under Republican administrations. The last time it was reauthorized by the Senate, in 2006, it sailed through the chamber unanimously. 

So why has this issue become so politicized? How have things changed so dramatically — and for the worse? 

The short answer is election disinformation that has been spread intentionally to undermine our democratic process — and state legislatures responding to these baseless claims with laws pretending to solve a problem that does not exist.

Unfortunately, recent short-sighted Supreme Court rulings have also made it easier to implement ill-advised policies we’re witnessing today.  

This is a grave injustice, and we cannot let such nakedly partisan attacks undermine what makes our nation great.

That’s why I was pleased when Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) displayed leadership earlier this year with bipartisan support for this effort. As they stated, “Protecting Americans’ access to democracy has not been a partisan issue for the past 56 years, and we must not allow it to become one now.” 

Their colleagues should show similar moral clarity and join them in making sure the John R. Lewis Advancement Act becomes law.  

America has long been a beacon of hope and freedom for oppressed peoples everywhere. Authoritarians and extremists are currently gaining alarming footholds across the globe. At this critical juncture, our role is arguably more important than ever. 

We cannot let our vibrant institutions be tarnished. It’s time to end the pursuit of short-term partisan gains and establish what makes the United States exceptional. Congress should pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act without delay.

Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo represented Florida’s 26th district in Congress from 2015 to 2019. He currently sits on the board of directors of Issue One, a leading crosspartisan political reform group in Washington, D.C. He is also a member of the National Council on Election Integrity, a bipartisan group made up of political, government, and civic leaders devoted to defending the legitimacy of our elections, and Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus, the largest bipartisan group of former members of Congress, governors, and cabinet secretaries ever assembled to advocate for political reform.

Tags Carlos Curbelo civil rights Election Security Elections Joe Manchin John Lewis Lisa Murkowski Voting voting rights

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