Protecting voting rights today

by Necia Quast

The League of Women Voters of the San Juans

As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, we should also remember his campaign for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1957, Dr. King told us voting rights were essential to freedom: “Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.” After the bloody march from Selma to Birmingham in March 1965, Dr. King returned to this theme: “Let us march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.” President Lyndon Baines Johnson sent the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to Congress which passed four months later.

Dr. King knew the country is strongest when all citizens can exercise their right to vote. Protecting voting rights is as important today. Dr. King’s family has called on voting rights groups to focus their work this year on action to commemorate his legacy, saying “No celebration without legislation!”

Over 440 bills were introduced to restrict voting access in 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Thirty-two restrictive laws passed in 19 states. More are being deliberated in 2022. Meanwhile, 25 states passed laws that expand voting access. This state-by-state process of restriction and expansion causes great disparities amongst states. Only federal law will level the playing field across the country.

This week, the Senate failed to act on two bills to remedy the assault on voting rights. The Freedom to Vote Act expands early voting and same-day and online registration; combats voter suppression; reforms redistricting processes; prevents election sabotage; modernizes voter registrations; reforms campaign finance; and promotes election security. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act restores the Voting Rights Act and ensures every voter—regardless of where they live—has equal access to the polls and protected from unfair laws and practices that make it harder to vote.

The League of Women Voters strongly supports these two bills. Don’t let the setback in Congress be the last word. Please take these steps:

· Contact your Senators—they need to know that passing federal voting rights legislation is a priority for their constituents and for the country. Two Senators stand in the way of reforming or ending the use of the filibuster to block voting rights bills from coming to a vote. Join the League board in expressing your support for ending the filibuster if it is the only way forward.

· Contact President Biden—thank him for supporting voting rights and ask him to use the powers of the Presidency to help pass The Freedom to Vote Act and The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

· Talk to your friends and family about protecting voting rights—in this country, the voters decide the outcome of elections. All of-age citizens must be able to exercise this right. This fundamental fact of our democracy must be protected.

· Vote in each and every election. Your right to vote was won by those willing to put their lives at stake. The least we can do is to vote and be counted on election day.