Nothing To Fear But Fear: Real Structural Voting Reform Is On the Table In 2020

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Donald Trump is betting his reelection on the hope that people who want change will not vote. His strategy of falsely claiming rampant voter fraud and repeatedly questioning the validity of mail-in ballots seeks to sow chaos, hopelessness and fear. It is the position of a weak leader who thinks his best chance of winning is scaring people into thinking they don’t have agency — that they have already lost before the election is over.

In fact, voters do have agency. You have agency. Donald Trump doesn’t decide whether he leaves office, voters do.

And in 2020, voters have a chance to usher in real, positive changes that undo structural inequities and rebalance the entrenched unfairness baked into the current system.

Since racking up big wins in national, state and local elections in 2010 and 2014, Republicans have enacted a series of policies aimed at making it harder to vote, from voter ID laws to strategically closing polling locations to limiting early voting to brazenly partisan redistricting schemes. In 2018, for example, Democratic candidates received 54 percent of the popular vote in Wisconsin state races, but Republicans won almost two-thirds of the seats in the Wisconsin state assembly.

That deep imbalance can be fixed. The House has already passed two important voting rights bills: HR1, the For the People Act and HR4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Together, the bills attempt to protect and enhance voting rights, make it easier to vote and help combat the influence of money in politics. Importantly, the For the People Act does the following:

  • Creates automatic voter registration
  • Allows for universal online voter registration
  • Creates a system for same day voter registration
  • Makes election day a federal holiday
  • Expands early voting universally
  • Prohibits voter purges that kick eligible voters off the registration rolls
  • Ends partisan gerrymandering through independent redistricting commissions

The Voting Rights Advancement Act will put teeth back in the Voting Rights Act, which was gutted in Shelby v Holder, by:

  • Restoring key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that require pre-clearance for changes in the law the negatively affect voting or election fairness
  • To meet the legal requirements of Shelby, the law laws out out exactly how a municipality can violate the Voting Rights Act
  • Allows the Department of Justice more oversight authority over states or municipalities with repeated problems

According to The Guardian, “Since Shelby v Holder, 25 states have put in place new voting restrictions, making it harder for people, particularly African Americans, to access the ballot box. Twelve states have enacted laws making it harder for citizens to register and stay registered, while dozens have made it more difficult to vote early or absentee. Thirty-five states now have voter ID laws in place, laws that have been shown to disproportionately disadvantage Americans of color.”

These bills have already passed. All they need is a cooperative Senate to become law. You — voters — have the power to make these changes real. A power structure that intentionally suppresses the votes of any population is no true democracy. Do not let them take your vote.

Fact Quotes

Charging the federal government with taking a more active role is important, as a report by the federal Commission on Civil Rights found that even as the number of voting rights lawsuits has increased since 2013, only a small fraction of those have been brought by the US Department of Justice. Many of the rest have been filed by voting rights groups, which don’t have as much sway as the federal government.

H.R. 1 passed the House of Representatives on March 8, 2019, by a vote of 234 to 193. Its Senate companion, S. 949, was cosponsored by all 47 Democratic senators. Across 10 titles, this historic legislation would make it easier to vote in federal elections, end congressional gerrymandering, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, increase safeguards against foreign interference, strengthen government ethics rules, and more.