June 23, 2024

Understanding the Voting Rights Bill and partisan clashing

In the face of what is seen as an effort to suppress the vote, Democrats have introduced two new pieces of legislation with the aim of expanding voting rights by increasing turnout and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to have their voices heard. 

Those bills are the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and Freedom to Vote Act, which have passed through the House of Representatives but have not made it through the Senate

The John Lewis Act would restore a requirement in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that any state wishing to change voting laws would require preclearance from the Department of Justice first, which was originally struck down by the 2013 case of Shelby County v. Holder

The Freedom to Vote Act has broader aims, including establishing election day as a national holiday, expanding early voting to two weeks before election day, granting universal mail-in voting, expanding infrastructure for voting for disabled people and requiring that states with voter ID requirements expand the acceptable forms of ID. 

The bills were combined on Jan. 12 into the John R. Lewis: Freedom to Vote Act, in order to get around a Republican filibuster. The single bill provided the same provisions as both the original bills, with an additional guaranteed right to vote that would make states have to get approval for any voting restrictions.   

However, these efforts did not manage to make it through the Senate. After a day of debate, the Republicans voted unanimously to oppose, and Democrats voted unanimously in favor. The Democrats attempted to eliminate the filibuster in order to call a vote of simple majority, though this failed due to opposition from Republicans and two Democrats. While Senators Manchin and Sinema supported the legislation, they felt that an elimination of the filibuster was an improper way to accomplish the Democrats’ goals. 

Why the push to fight voter suppression? Simply put, voting rights have been under attack for the past 20 years in various states with a variety of policies. Such policies include ID laws, reduced voting time, restrictions on voter registration and purges of voter registration. 

Some of these restrictions are couched in language of concern for other problems, such as ID laws, which supporters claim prevent voter fraud. An example of this is the 2011 Kansas measure requiring citizens to carry documents such as birth certificates or passports in order to prove their citizenship, though this was struck down in 2018. 

Other laws seemingly have less justification, such as Georgia measures which make it illegal to give food or drink to voters standing in often long lines at polling places, or removing voters from registration illegitimately during routine filtering. This is intended to remove voters who have died, moved, or are otherwise ineligible to vote. 

These policies of suppression are not without impact. Research suggests that these measures are especially damaging to turnout rates for voters of color. Such an impact seems far from coincidental, especially in the face of efforts including that of the Trump administration to deliberately undercount population in the 2020 census by adding a citizenship question, with the potential effect of underreporting population and dictating the amount of resources allocated to each state.  

Another possible motivation for suppression is that in communities typically less represented at the polls, support for Democratic candidates is higher. While the current Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, the upcoming midterms could change this, but only time will tell how. 

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