It’s Time for Democrats to Take a Stand Against Voter Suppression
The 2018 midterms were ugly. The ads were personal. The President tweeted. The votes were close, the results disputed. But the ugliest part of the elections was the methodical way in which Republican officials undermined access to democracy.
In Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp purged over 750,000 voters from the rolls. 20,000 voters in Florida saw their absentee ballots rejected by the state. State officials in North Dakota targeted Native Americans by questioning the validity of their tribal IDs as acceptable forms of identification.
All of these tactics and more are popular strategies used by the Republican Party to keep minorities, the working class, and young people from casting their ballots. And because of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, the GOP has been able to get away with it.
That year, the court ruled that states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls no longer needed federal oversight over their elections. In effect, the ruling killed many of protections for which the Voting Rights Act was lauded.
Since then, state-level Republicans have been waging a quiet war on our nation’s most vulnerable voters. Conservative legislatures and Secretaries of State have gerrymandered districts beyond recognition. They are requiring voters to show extra identification at the polls, and, in some cases, rejecting the IDs they have. They have eliminated polling places and slashed early voting hours. The elected officials for whom we cast our ballots have purged our friends and our neighbors from the voting booths — all of this, it appears, without an ounce of moral remorse.
Voter suppression is not new: over the past ten decade, Republicans have been planning their attack on voting rights. GOP leaders have been writing policies they know will suppress the vote and collecting court cases to defend their policies. The GOP has executed its plan perfectly — and Democrats failed to fight back until it was too late.
But the damage is done. The 2018 votes have been cast, and the ballots (mostly) counted. So what’s next?
We are in need of a systemic change that will ensure every American is able to participate in our democracy.
The Democratic Party needs to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. It should give a voice to those whose voices were drowned out as Republicans made loud, unfounded claims about voter fraud.
Democrats’ gameplan should be to stand up against voter suppression and make voting rights a principle part of the party platform. And though House Democrats have made a great start by planning to introduce election reforms in Congress, many decisions about elections are made at the state level — on state Supreme Courts, by Secretaries of State, and in state legislatures.
The good news is that Democrats succeeded in state-level races across the country in 2018. Democratic candidates flipped a total of six state legislative chambers blue, gained a supermajority in two chambers, and broke Republican supermajorities in four chambers, including both in the North Carolina General Assembly. Democratic Governors were elected from Kansas to Wisconsin. In North Carolina, we elected a voting rights champion to our state Supreme Court.
All officials have a responsibility to protect their constituents’ access to the ballot box — but our nation’s newly elected state-level officials should make voting rights a priority. We need sweeping election reform implemented at every level of government.
First and foremost, we should be making it easier to vote, not harder. The bureaucratic hoops through which Americans have to jump through to register to vote prevent people from participating in our democracy. Voter registration should be automatic and universal.
We tout our elections as a hallmark of the success of democratic government, but we need to fund them as such. Voters in every state should have access to early voting. States should mail absentee ballots to every voter who requests one, no matter their reason. We need to increase polling places, especially those in rural and minority communities.
No one should have to choose between working to put food on the table and standing in line to cast their ballot. Election Day should be a federal holiday, so working people have the opportunity to get to the polls.
Florida voters made history this year by restoring the right to vote for 1.5 million Floridians with past felony convictions, but over four million Americans are still ineligible to vote because of their state’s criminal disenfranchisement laws. These laws disproportionately impact African American communities, constituting yet another tactic used by the GOP to disenfranchise minorities. All states should enact legislation that grants every citizen the right to vote, regardless of their past convictions.
When people actually do get to cast their ballots, the election results should reflect their votes. Elected officials should implement independent redistricting commissions in every state, so that elections are competitive and neither party can manipulate districts to favor itself.
If one political party works to systematically suppress the vote, all Americans should be concerned about that party’s intentions. Republicans aren’t afraid of voter fraud — they’re afraid of what might happen if the Democratic Party finally prioritizes protecting the voting rights of minorities and working class Americans.
Democrats should show them what happens when a democracy functions for its people.