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Voting Rights

A Once-in-a-Generation Chance to Strengthen Democracy

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This op-ed was originally published in Medium.

Physics holds that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Something similar might be said of politics — although reactions to political change can come with a fury and intensity that belie the notion of “equal.” This is the case now as the country’s right-wingers respond to the election losses of 2020.

Last fall, record numbers of Americans cast votes to end the term of a divisive, corrupt and bigoted incumbent president. In Georgia, millions of citizens — led by Black voters — made history by electing Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, a progressive Black minister and a young Jewish filmmaker, to the U.S. Senate.

The right is apoplectic. And it is responding not by trying to figure out where its agenda and candidates went wrong, but — you guessed it — how to stop more people from voting. In fact, experts at NYU’s Brennan Center say legislators in 33 states have introduced more than 165 bills aimed at restricting voting. And as always, these measures would fall hardest on Black and brown voters.

We have to fight back. And thankfully, we currently have pro-democracy majorities in Congress and the White House that can take meaningful action. A critically important first step will be getting the House and Senate to pass the For the People Act — H.R 1 in the House and S. 1 in the Senate — which is expected to come up in March.

The bill is a comprehensive package of democracy fixes that are long overdue. It includes voting rights protections that the late Rep. John Lewis championed for the last ten years. It would do away with racist, partisan gerrymandering — when one party or group creates voting districts to give itself an unfair advantage. With new transparency requirements and a small-donor matching program for campaigns, it would crack down on the toxic influence of big money in politics — which is at the root of so many evils in our society.

The right hates this bill. So it is busy spreading disinformation about it, including the falsehood that the small-donor matching fund would force taxpayers to finance political campaigns. False: the fund would be built from fines and fees paid by lawbreaking corporations.

But lies like this are being used to pressure members of Congress not to support the bill. That’s why we need to be equally forceful in reaching out to our elected officials in Washington and telling them we want them to support it — proudly and vocally. The numbers are on our side: a new national poll released by Data for Progress and Equal Citizens found that 67 percent of Americans support the For the People Act.

Back in 2019, this bill first passed the House with unanimous support and co-sponsorship of House Democrats and it has that full support again this year. But we don’t have forever.

The evidence is clear that there are forces in our country that do not want an inclusive, pluralistic democracy. Some of them are so vengeful and dangerous that they were willing to arm themselves and form a mob to storm the Capitol. Others are working hard to pass the kind of voter-suppression laws that could bring a very different outcome in the 2022 elections than we experienced in 2020. We need to pass the For the People Act now, while we have the will and the majorities in Washington to do it and before the forces of voter suppression gain the upper hand.

The clock is ticking on what is surely a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen our democracy. Let’s not miss this chance.