Kathy, a voter in Georgia, spotted a winding line at Christian City Welcome Center in October 2020 that went on for what seemed like miles, according to NPR. Hundreds were in line waiting to exercise their rights, but how many were able to?
In Maricopa County, Arizona, polling places were reduced by 70% — from 200 to 60 — leaving only one polling place available for every 21,000 voters. In Atlanta, Georgia there was only one polling location for 16,000 people. From Arizona to Georgia, voter suppression remains a rampant issue and Georgia’s voter suppression tactics are just one of many that have recently come to light. Even back in 2018, Georgians faced hours-long lines to vote in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Georgia has made it astoundingly clear that they simply don’t care about those who can’t sacrifice hours of their time which excludes busy parents, those who work long hours, or simply people who can’t wait in a line for hours on end.
Now, on the surface, that sounds unacceptable, but once one gets into the fundamental essence of the issue, it becomes an issue of significant importance. Georgia, a state that has garnered media attention for being the red state turned blue, has one of the worst voter suppression laws in the nation. The individuals who are overwhelmingly affected by this blatant voter suppression are disproportionately people of color. When polling places are closed, many Black and Brown people are forced to travel farther to vote.
Adding insult to injury, Georgian Governor Brian Kemp signed into law SB 202 in March that encompasses a variety of voting restrictions. Such restrictions include, but are not limited to, reducing the number of ballot boxes, shrinking the window for early voting, adding additional photo ID requirements, and allowing state officials to circumvent the work of county election officials if they oppose the outcomes. The Georgia bill even goes so far as to ban outside groups from giving water or food to voters stuck in long lines. This bill, sopped up by opportunist Republicans, was influenced by unfounded “voter fraud” based on baseless claims in the 2020 Presidential election. This bill is the aftermath of the Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, which ruled in favor of the County. The case ruled that “state and local governments with a history of discrimination are no longer required to preclear amendments to voting laws and processes with the federal government”.
Many people may be asking: why is this important? Well, Charlotte Hill, a PhD candidate at the University of California Berkeley who studies elections, turned to Twitter and cited research suggesting that reforms making voting more convenient and accessible do affect turnout. It is not even an issue about mere convenience, it is an issue about historically disenfranchising the minority vote. To put into perspective just how much this will harm minorities, Georgia’s population is 32% Black, but the percentage of Black voters with registration makes up 70% of the list. This is not reform; this is extortion of our democracy.
President Biden even called these efforts “un-American” and “sick”. In a statement released to CNN, Biden states,
“This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end”.
In Georgia, Democratic State Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler called the efforts by Republicans “voter suppression tactics”. And she is exactly right.
The For the People Act (H.R 1) along with the John Lewis Voting Act, proposed as solutions to prevent voter suppression, must be enacted. The For the People Act would set national standards to ensure that citizens can vote freely and fairly. It would make voter registration automatic and ensure mail-in ballots and early voting while also mandating that independent commissions draw district boundaries. Additionally, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (H.R 4) would strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to the Human Rights Campaign in 2021), “The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would strengthen voting rights by expanding and strengthening the government’s ability to respond to voting discrimination.”
This seems like the perfect solution — the protection of democracy. But why hasn’t it been enacted? Well, unwillingness from Republicans and moderate Democrats coupled with President Biden’s lack of initiative is why.
As of today, the bill has not been passed. It failed in the Senate in July due to the Republican filibuster and a plethora of conservative Democrats’ refusal to modify Senate filibuster rules requiring sixty votes to advance virtually all legislation. Joe Manchin, the Democratic Senator from West Virginia, strongly opposed H.R 1 and worked with Democrat Amy Klobuchar to introduce a scaled-back version, the Freedom to Vote Act (S.B 2747), in mid-September. However, the new bill was blocked by Senate Republicans and failed to pass. As Senator Chuck Schumer, party majority leader said,
“We have reached a point in this chamber where Republicans appear to oppose any measure — no matter how common sense — to protect voting rights and strengthen our democracy.”
But one must not fret there is still hope for the forlorn John Lewis Voting Act. History shows that passing a bill to protect voting rights will be a tough battle, with the Freedom to Vote Act being blocked in September. Although there is still hope for the John Lewis Voting Act being passed, Biden stopped short of calling for Senate filibuster reforms in July.
With that said, there is no time to waste as Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, said Democrats are on a deadline to change redistricting for the 2022 elections. Furthermore, if voter protection laws were passed after states have already enacted voter suppression laws, it would be unlikely that this requirement would go into effect before the 2024 elections. But a large hurdle still stands in the way – moderate Democrats’ unwillingness to vote for S.1. However, advocates of the legislation believe showing Republican opposition will encourage centrist Senators such as Joe Manchin and Krysten Cinema to support changing the filibuster or creating an exemption for elections-related changes to pass based on a majority vote.
From a 16-year old’s perspective, the urgency of this bill to the youth is undeniable as we are the next voting generation. Consistently, the majority of individuals who don’t vote are the youth, as shown in the 2020 election where only 42-44% of 18-29-year-olds voted in 2016 and 52-55% of 18-29-year-olds voted in 2020. These voter suppression tactics in a multitude of red states will only discourage young people to vote and in turn, entrap the vicious cycle of voter suppression, which upholds the corrupt cycle of disenfranchisement. If the Senate is truly for the people, voter protection laws must be enacted. The United States is supposed to be the epitome of freedom and democracy, but to not enact this bill would only undermine our democracy. It would not only dim a light on John Lewis’s legacy but also etch into history the future of democracy – and it’s not a pretty one. Do as they were sworn in to do: represent the people and protect our democracy.