The voting rights struggle: State lawmakers report on where things stand

U.S. Senate Democrats push voting rights bills, lambast Georgia election law

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar called Georgia ground zero for restrictive voting laws during a Monday voting law hearing in Atlanta. (Photo: Stanley Dunlap)

If the rules in Georgia’s controversial 2021 voting overhaul were in place before last November’s historic U.S. Senate races were pushed to Jan. 5 runoffs, then 76,000 residents who cast their ballots would’ve been unable to register in time for the second round.

A U.S. Senate committee gathered in downtown Atlanta Monday to hear how shortened runoff timeframes, tighter absentee ballot deadlines, and new state powers over local election officials are cause for Congress to expand voting protections through pending federal legislation.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, said it’s not a coincidence that the sweeping Republican legislation requires runoffs to be held 28 days after an election when state law mandates that voters are registered at least 29 days before the Election Day.

On Jan. 5, Georgia voters handed Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock a pair of historic victories over Republican incumbent, giving Democrats control of the federal government.

Georgia is now ground zero in the battle over access to the ballot box for Democrats and civil rights activists who say they’re fighting against voter suppression tactics that will disproportionately affect Black and other minority voters.

“It is no coincidence that this assault on the freedom to vote is happening just after the 2020 election, when nearly 160 million Americans cast a ballot — more than ever before in the middle of a pandemic, in an election the Trump Department of Homeland Security declared the most secure in history,” Klobuchar said during the first field hearing hosted by the committee in 20 years.

Republican-controlled legislatures across the country this year are passing restrictive new voting laws, prompting Democratic U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to double his enforcement staff to protect voting rights.

“This year alone, as I noted, hundreds of hundreds of bills have been introduced,” Klobuchar said. “That is why we are here.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), speaks during Monday’s hearing. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

The hearing at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights was held two days after the first anniversary of the death of the civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the namesake for a voting law  stalled in the Senate that would restore a pre-clearance formula set by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Senate panel and witnesses that included Warnock, Ossoff, state legislators and others also called for the Senate to move forward with the “For the People Act.”

The path for passing federal voting rights legislation is steep, as the 50 Senate Republicans are showing solidarity against both bills. Without GOP support, the bills will need to reach the unlikely 60-vote threshold required to end a filibuster and advance to the desk of President Joe Biden for his signature.

Warnock said his top priority this year is for federal intervention after lawmakers in 48 states introduced nearly 400 bills restricting voting laws.

“We have no time to spare; there’s nothing more important for us to do in Congress,” he said.

Republican supporters of Georgia’s election overhaul argue that the legislation improves the security of the absentee voting system. Some Georgians would get more voting options, including a mandated extra weekend voting day and more public notice on polling location changes.

Witnesses testified Monday that allowing fewer days to receive and return absentee ballots, limiting the number of drop boxes and requiring ID to receive an absentee  ballot will result in longer lines in places where most voters are Black. Read more

‘Our democracy is in peril’: Women risk arrest at D.C. Moral Monday protest

Photo: Ariana Figueroa

WASHINGTON—Diane Howard of Cleveland traveled to the nation’s capital with hundreds of other women to urge Congress to pass an elections overhaul and undo new state laws that restrict voting access.

A community activist for half a century, Howard said that this is not the first time she’s seen voting rights under attack. “What we did in the ‘60s is we kept protesting,” the Ohio woman said. “A lot of voter rights were restricted in the ‘60s.”

At 71, she was the oldest woman participating in the Poor People’s Campaign protest, titled “A Season of Nonviolent Moral Direct Action,” in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

U.S. Capitol Police officers arrested about 100 of the women—although not Howard—for civil disobedience at the march, including Poor People’s Campaign state leaders from North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Maine.

The protest followed the recent arrest of Rep. Joyce Beatty, (D-Ohio), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who was taken into custody by Capitol Police Thursday. Beatty led a march to the Senate Hart Office Building atrium to speak out against the assault on voting rights. “Be assured that this is just the beginning,” she said in a statement.

For the Poor People’s Campaign, this was the first event in a weeks-long push calling on Congress to end the Senate filibuster, pass voting rights legislation, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and pass an elections and voting rights expansion package called the “For The People Act.”

On the steps of the court, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, called on Congress to move on voting rights, warning that “our democracy is in peril.” Protestors taking part in the Women’s Moral March included women leaders representing 42 states.

“In this time, when our voting rights are under attack, and economic justice is being denied, we must, and so we are, calling out the immoral obstructionism of Congress,” said Theoharis, who was also arrested Monday.

The march was part of a nationwide attempt by  Democratic lawmakers, social justice organizations and activists to protect voting rights as Republicans in state legislatures move to introduce and pass restrictive voting laws in response to the 2020 presidential election won by President Joe Biden.

Maureen Taylor, state chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, said she has seen Republican state representatives in her state introduce dozens of restrictive voting laws.

“The right to vote is sacred,” she said.

Michigan lawmakers introduced a sweeping package of 39 bills in March that would restrict the use of early voting drop boxes and require voters to cast ballots with a provisional ballot if they do not have a photo ID with them at their polling place.

“There’s a level of fear that every American needs to possess at this moment,” Taylor said. Read more

VP Harris says DNC will pour $25M into voting rights protection

Fifty years ago, NC played a historic role in securing voting rights for young Americans. Let’s continue that legacy today.

Image: AdobeStock

RALEIGH – It was 50 years ago this month that North Carolina became the final state needed to ratify the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, lowering the national voting age to 18.

The amendment’s adoption was made possible in large part to young activists highlighting the injustice of 18-year-olds being drafted to fight for our country while denied the right to vote.

Since the amendment’s ratification, the cohort of young voters has shifted from Baby Boomers, to Generation X, to Millennials and now Gen Z. While each generation has faced the unique challenges of its era, the constant has been that young voters infuse our democracy with energy and idealism, a much-needed antidote to the complacency and cynicism that frequently pervade politics.

There’s a persistent myth that young people are apathetic towards politics and voting. That’s far from true, as shown by a post-2020 election survey from CIRCLE at Tufts University. The study found that “more than three-quarters of young people believe they have the power and responsibility to change the country.”

Nearly one in four voters age 18-29 nationwide donated to a campaign or helped register others to vote in the 2020 election, about half tried to convince their peers to vote and two-thirds spoke with friends about the election and politics, according to the survey.

An overwhelming majority of these young voters say improving communities goes beyond casting a ballot, understanding the importance of remaining engaged after Election Day.

Still, there’s been a stubborn gap in turnout between young and older voters. In 2020, 60% of North Carolina voters age 18-25 cast a ballot, the highest for this group since 2008. But even with a strong increase last year, turnout for young voters lagged behind other age groups in our state and was below the 84% turnout among voters age 66 and above.

In order to bridge that generational divide, our state should work to make voting more accessible for young adults. That starts by defending and building upon the successful innovations that made North Carolina a leader on voting access, including robust early voting, no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration.

High schools should promote pre-registration, which allows 16- and 17-year-old North Carolinians to complete a voter registration form and automatically be added to voter rolls when they turn 18. Our state should expand online voter registration and county boards of elections should designate polling places on college campuses.

In addition to strengthening voting accessibility, we should encourage young adults to serve in elected office themselves, giving a voice to their generation in the rooms where policy is crafted and laws enacted. Far too often, the stifling demands of big money in politics create a wealth barrier, preventing everyday people from running for office. Establishing a voter-owned campaign finance system that reduces special-interest influence and focuses on small donors would help open the door for younger people to serve in government.

Finally, a key step forward for all voters – young and old – would be passage of the For the People Act. In the wake of the 2020 election, we’ve seen voting rights under attack by partisan politicians across the country. Congress should enact the For the People Act to protect everyone’s freedom to vote and build a democracy for us all.

A half-century ago, our state played a historic role in securing the right to vote for young Americans. Our nation is stronger for it. Let’s keep that legacy alive today by empowering a new generation of voters and leaders.

Bob Phillips is executive director of Common Cause NC, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy.