Like an ominous storm front darkening the skies, a political movement has developed that threatens voting rights for every American. The movement is a Republican-inspired agenda, now in more than forty states, that would upend voting laws, including ones that take power away from Secretaries of State, traditional arbiters of elections, and put it in the hands of state legislatures.
The new laws, many of which have been crafted and drafted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, take direct aim at restricting voting access, limiting ballot initiatives, stiffening penalties for election officials and poll workers---including potential jail time---and lock in control of voting outcomes to the Republican Party. The movement, first begun in Texas in 2020, has since metastasized following the outcome of the last Presidential election, an election in which ex-President Trump and his supporters continue to say was stolen.
The first signs of the voter suppression movement began early last year when Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an order limiting the number of drop-boxes to one per county, including Texas’s Harris County, a county with a population of 4.7 million and with a population larger than five U.S. states. The county also has a combined Latino and African-American population of fifty percent. The new law limiting drop-boxes, locations where voters could return their voting ballots, forced some in Harris County and other counties in Texas to drive up to an hour to turn in their votes.
The movement to alter the way people vote has more often than not found an easy path toward enactment thanks to Republican-appointed judges, said former Colorado Senate President, Morgan Carroll. “I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon,” she said. Carroll, now Chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, said that while affixing part of the blame for this trend is on the ex-President, it also “goes to the worst part of our own history…to keep people from voting.”
There is no big mystery, said Carroll, as to why this movement is percolating. The answer, she suggests, is demographics. “The reason for this concerted attack is the power of the vote.” Republicans know well how the complexion of the nation is changing and how future elections may swing based on how minority groups vote, especially Latinos who represent the fastest growing demographic in the country.
Limiting the number of drop-boxes, narrowing what can be legitimately used as identification and reducing voting options and hours, said Carroll, is a way Republicans can make people think their vote doesn’t count. “I think the end game is they want to pick their voters instead of their voters picking them.”
Fanning the flames of the ‘big lie,’ the belief that the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen, are now many out of power Republican elites, said Democratic State Senator Julie Gonzales. “He (Trump) and his party have stoked misinformation and disinformation and outright lies because they have found themselves unwilling and unable to present compelling policy agendas.” It is also the reason, said the 34th District Senator, that “Republicans in Colorado have been unable to win statewide races.” Currently Democrats control both houses of the legislature and the Governor’s office. All Colorado state-wide elected offices, including Secretary of State, are controlled by Democrats.
The tsunami of voter suppression movements, though called voter enhancements by Republicans, includes changes that would make it a crime to drive more than two non-relatives to the polls, increase purges of voter registration rolls, limit absentee voting options, move drop-boxes inside and change 24-hour drop-offs to nine-to-five and only during weekdays, and give state legislatures autonomy in deciding winners in elections.
This movement is occurring at the same time that Congress is weighing two significant voting measures. Senate Bill 1 addresses voter access, election integrity and security, and campaign finance and ethics for each branch of government. The other is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, so named for the late Congressman whose Civil Rights legacy began when he was viciously beaten in a 1965 march to ensure voters rights in Montgomery, Alabama. The bill seeks to return key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which protected voters from racial discrimination and intimidation. In a 2013 decision, by a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated key parts of the Voting Rights Act.
The only real chance Democrats prevail with these bills is if they vote to kill the Senate filibuster rule, a rule that allows passage with a simple majority---fifty votes plus the Vice President voting to break the tie. But West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said he will vote no on killing the filibuster and stand firm with Republicans on the status quo. Manchin said he still holds out hope that he can convince ten Republicans to vote with Democrats to assure passage. But with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vowing to kill every element of the Biden agenda, there stands little chance of that ever happening.
But another Senator who also wants to keep the filibuster but is willing to kill it if it means ensuring more opportunity to vote, is Maine Independent Angus King. “If it comes down to voting rights and the rights of Americans to go to the polls and select their leaders versus the filibuster, I will choose democracy,” said King.