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The Fight for the Voting Rights Advancement Act: A Fight for American Democracy

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

On January 12, 2022, just over a year from the failed coup attempt on the US Capitol, a bombshell report came out that Republican legislators in 5 states – Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia - had sent fake certification letters to the National Archives certifying Donald Trump as the winner of the electoral votes from their states.

In these election materials, as the report states, the Republicans declared themselves as the legitimate electors from the states!

These attempts were laughably fraudulent, but what is deeply worrying is Republicans felt comfortable sending these obviously fake documents to be certified and having their names on the record. The fact that they felt no fear of consequences suggests that this is only a trial run for what will happen around the country in every single coming election where the results are not acceptable to the GOP.

What’s at Stake?

After his loss at the ballot box on November 3, 2020, Trump immediately contested the results in several states, leading to costly and expensive recounts and legal challenges which were ultimately denied. But the groundwork for questioning the legitimacy of the American elections had been laid months prior to the actual date. Allegations of voter fraud were carefully seeded beginning the summer of 2020 and many GOP controlled states used every excuse to restrict voting in areas with typically Democratic voters. Democrats came out in big numbers to repudiate these attempts and Joe Biden ultimately won with a Democratic House and Senate.

This result was a shock to the Republicans, who were sure their tactics would win the day and they immediately began attempts to control future elections, getting partisans appointed to electoral offices, boards, and commissions, closing more polling stations, and using voter fraud as an excuse to make it even more difficult to vote. According to this report

“Georgia is hardly the only state that’s made it harder to vote this year. Republican lawmakers have now enacted new voting restrictions in a total of 11 states — Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.”

Our Response

Realizing that the very foundation of democracy was under threat of collapsing, the Democrats in the House passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act, named the John Lewis Act in honor of the great American statesman and civil rights activist. The main features of the Act are as follows:

  • Modernizing the VRA’s formula determining which states and localities have a pattern of discrimination

  • Ensuring that last-minute voting changes do not adversely affect voters by requiring officials to publicly announce all voting changes at least 180 days before an election; and

  • Expanding the government’s authority to send federal observers to any jurisdiction where there may be a substantial risk of discrimination at the polls on Election Day or during an early voting period.

Without the passage of this bill, we cannot be sure that any future elections will be carried out fairly in GOP help areas and states. Sadly, since elections are managed by states, these protections would be after the fact, but at the very least they set up a recourse in case of large scale voter fraud by GOP election officials.

Stuck at the Senate

Given the Democrats’ razor thin majority in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked the threat of the filibuster to prevent the Act from being called to the floor of the Senate, an old tactic that has been successful in stymying several previous Democratic initiatives.

After several attempts to find bipartisan support for what should be a no-brainer protection for American democracy, President Biden finally expressed his support for procedurally bypassing the filibuster to pass this Act in the Senate with only Democratic votes. In a rare, emotional, fiery speech Biden said

In our lives and the lives of our nation — the life of our nation, there are moments so stark that they divide all that came before from everything that followed. They stop time. They rip away the trivial from the essential. And they force us to confront hard truths about ourselves, about our institutions, and about our democracy.

Though it is by no means a certainty that the VRA will pass with just Democrats, given the intransigence of Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, a maneuver by Senator Schumer might succeed in at least bringing the vote to the floor of the Senate, where Senators would have to go on record with their stand on voting rights, instead of being able to avoid the discussion by using the filibuster.

Schumer detailed a strategy wherein the House would amend an unrelated bill about Nasa to include provisions from two stalled voting reform bills: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. After passing that bill, which they are calling a “shell” bill, the Democrats would swiftly send it to the Senate, where Democrats could start debate on it with a simple majority.

What Next?

This week will be the crucial test. Will the VRA Act pass, giving a lifeline to our democracy, or are we doomed to lose battleground states for ever by voting fraud from the GOP?

Former President Obama weighed in today on what’s at stake, saying

These partisan attempts at voter nullification are unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times, and they represent a profound threat to the basic democratic principle that all votes should be counted fairly and objectively.
Now is the time for the U.S. Senate to do the right thing. America’s long-standing grand experiment in democracy is being sorely tested. Future generations are counting on us to meet that test.

What Can We Do?

Let’s use our power as citizens and take every opportunity to express our support for the VRA. On Twitter, use the hashtags #FightForVotingRights and #VotingRightsNow. On Facebook and Instagram, share this article with the same hashtags. Share your concerns with your friends and family on WhatsApp and call your Senators expressing your support for the bill.

Our future as a democracy is at a crossroads. Let’s do everything we can this week to take it in the right direction.

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