Democracy needs votes of support from every American

Even after voting rights legislation failed in the Senate, the fight for democracy and the right of every American to cast a ballot must go on.

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A television monitor on the back of a vehicle displays U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. D-Ga., as he speaks on the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

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The fight for fair and free elections is everyone’s fight, even if they don’t realize it.

Anyone who thinks efforts at disenfranchisement will only be directed at others will get a sad lesson on the day they become unhappy with government and find they have lost the democratic tools they need throw the rascals out.

That’s why, even after the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act, key provisions of which were combined into a single bill, fell to a Republican filibuster on Wednesday night in the U.S. Senate, the fight for democracy must go on. The right to full participation in democracy should be sacrosanct for every American.

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Around the nation, we are witnessing efforts to shunt aside those rights and impose minority rule. New bills and laws have been designed to make it harder for some groups — people of color and college students on campuses, for example — to vote. Election workers have been forced or frightened out of their jobs. People solely interested in tilting vote outcomes are eager to replace them. Widespread and more effective gerrymandering is bolstering minority rule in some states.

As U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said, “The GOP political strategy for over a decade has been one focused on disenfranchisement.”

That strategy tears at the fabric of this nation. The firehose of efforts to subvert democracy threatens America’s cohesiveness as a country and weakens it on the world stage.

Illinois, which now is gerrymandered but has pro-voter laws, is not immune. A future Legislature and governor could rewrite the rules to cement themselves in power.

Among the many provisions in the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act were that it would have guarded elections from authoritarian attacks, made it harder for states to enact anti-voter laws, squeezed out dark money from political campaigns and put an end to gerrymandering of congressional districts. To make voting easier, it also would have required two weeks of early voting and automatic voter registration in all 50 states and made Election Day a federal holiday.

As written, the legislation is dead. But there are options. Some of those measures could be repackaged and brought back to the floor, as U.S. Sen Cory Booker, D-N.J., has suggested. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is considering reforming the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act to make it harder to overturn the voters’ will by refusing to certify election results, as almost happened after the 2020 election.

Average Americans must make this fight their own. Although an NPR/Ipsos poll released on Jan. 3 found 64% of Americans think democracy is at risk of failing, less than half were familiar with efforts to impose anti-democratic measures in the states. President Joe Biden can help educate voters by using his bully pulpit to make every American keenly aware of what’s at stake.

The fight for voting rights can also be carried on in the states. Ross Sherman, a strategist for the nonpartisan group RepresentUs, told us close to 130 anti-corruption and pro-democracy laws have been enacted in recent years and the group is working to pass more. In the 2018 midterm elections, state-level pro-voter measures won 14 times in 16 attempts.

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The fight for voting rights is not a partisan battle. Making it easier to vote does not necessarily favor a particular party. Virginia has pro-voter laws on the books, yet Republican Glenn Youngkin last year won the race for governor against a Democratic incumbent.

The battle to ensure all Americans can vote is as old as the nation itself. Rights have been secured in some eras, lost or denied in others. We are living in a time when voting rights are again under assault, perhaps at a level from which genuine democracy cannot recover.

Americans used to bemoan the collapse of democracy in other nations when the winners rewrote the rules to secure their power indefinitely.

We can’t let that happen here.

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