WASHINGTON—Vice President Kamala Harris announced Thursday that the Democratic National Committee will spend $25 million to protect voting rights, in response to a wave of laws pushed by Republican lawmakers in state legislatures that would restrict voting access.
The move comes after Democrats have been stymied in their attempts to enact a national election overhaul in Congress known as the “For the People Act,” which passed the House but couldn’t get past a 60-vote threshold in the Senate to start debate.
Democrats have also held several hearings recently on voting rights, including on the “John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” which would restore a pre-clearance formula set by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states with a history of implementing discriminatory voting laws to get federal approval before making any changes to voting laws. Lewis was a civil rights icon and longtime congressman from Georgia.
Speaking at her alma mater, Howard University, Harris said the DNC will spend the funds on an “I will vote” campaign. The push will aim to boost voter education and increase voter registration, as well as employ technology to make voting more accessible through a website.
“This campaign is grounded in the firm belief that everyone’s vote matters,” she said.
Several states have passed laws that limit early voting and restrict voting by mail, which many Americans took advantage of during the 2020 presidential election due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Currently, 22 bills with restrictive voting provisions have been enacted, with 61 bills in 18 states pending, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. And 48 states have 389 bills introduced by Republicans that also aim to restrict voting access or implement voter ID requirements that researchers have said particularly disenfranchise low income and communities of color.
“Our democracy is strongest when everyone participates, and it is weaker when people are left out,” Harris said.
The White House recently directed the Justice Department to file a lawsuit against Georgia’s new voting law in an attempt to overturn the state’s sweeping elections law passed in March.
“This all is designed, I believe, to make it harder for you to vote, so that you don’t vote,” Harris said. “These laws create obstacle upon obstacle.”
DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said the attack on voting rights is not something new.
“It is the ghost of Jim Crow,” he said. “The same Jim Crow that my family grew up under in South Carolina, that my grandparents had to suffer.”
Harris added that protecting voting rights was not just about federal elections, but about state and local elections as well.
“It’s about who’s going to be your sheriff, or your mayor or your school board member,” she said. “The folks who get elected and then make decisions that impact your everyday life.”
Hours later, President Joe Biden and Harris also met with nearly a dozen civil rights leaders in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House.
The meeting was closed to the press, but those in attendance included Sherrilyn Ifill, president and co-director of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Derrick Johnson, CEO of the NAACP; Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network; and former Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who is senior adviser to the president.