Why suffrage is a hot topic decades after the Voting Rights Act was passed

Experts say it’s a combination of the Supreme Court watering down the original law and the big lie leading people to believe the 2020 election was rigged.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — More than 50 years after major strides were made to secure suffrage and access for all, the topic is once again dominating national headlines.

And, Wednesday night, it culminated in a Senate vote that handed the Democrats a defeat.

Lawmakers voted on the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, a combination of two previous bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The new bill would have restored the suffrage law to full force after recent Supreme Court rulings weakened it, to prevent discrimination among minority voters.

It would also have, among other things, allowed early voting for at least two weeks before Election Day, allowed voting by mail for any reason, prohibited partisan gerrymandering, and required states with ID laws to voters to expand acceptable forms of identification.

“Both the people pushing these restrictions and the people pushing them, on both sides, the right to vote has really become kind of a top priority,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the Brennan Center for Justice. .

The center is a nonpartisan law and policy institute affiliated with the NYU School of Law. Morales-Doyle says the mission is to strengthen, improve and defend the systems of democracy and justice.

“I think it’s important for people to realize the moment of crisis that we’re in, and I think it’s not the crisis that a lot of people in this country have heard about, that the 2020 election has faked, it’s a lie,” he said. noted.

Morales-Doyle says the real crisis facing the country is states enacting laws to make it harder for people to vote and spreading the lie that the 2020 election was rigged.

“There is no doubt in my mind that all of these restrictive laws that are being passed across the country – 34 new laws passed last year to restrict access to voting across the country – that these are attacking, they are solutions to problems that are not. exist,” he said. “States like Georgia and Florida that had, for a long time, had fairly extensive access to mail-in voting began restricting access to mail-in voting immediately after seeing this huge shift of black voters using mail-in voting. correspondence in these two states. .”

Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, agreed that there is a false belief that there is rampant voter fraud, and that belief is part of what is fueling this push for legislation.

“The worry that they have that, oh, things aren’t safe, or things aren’t secure, you know, we don’t really have a lot of people going in person to vote that they don’t deserve not,” she said. “It’s extremely rare.”

Common Cause Ohio, like its national counterpart, is also a nonpartisan, nonprofit group. Turcer said the goal is to ensure that all eligible voters are able to vote and that every vote is counted correctly.

“In this country, if you are a citizen and you are over 18, regardless of your background, you have the right to vote,” she said. “We want to make sure that we invite people in and that we stop ways that prevent the most vulnerable from voting.”

Voter identification is one of the main topics of discussion regarding the right to vote. Morales-Doyle points out that there has been a lot of confusion about what the defeated bill would have done.

“The bill that Congress was considering yesterday would have actually been the first federal legislation that would have set a standard for what voter ID should look like across the country,” he said. “It would in no way, as some have said, prohibit voter identification. This was actually the first time Congress ever legislated around voter ID, and all it was saying was that in a state that has a voter ID law, you are allowed to have a voter ID law, but you have to accept a certain set of IDs, and you have to provide options for people who don’t have the required form of ID to still be able to vote .

Proponents of expanding acceptable forms of identity argue that failure to do so may disenfranchise certain populations, including people of color.

“We have to remember that it’s a privilege to have a driver’s license and to have the money to have a car and to have the money to get the ID card,” Turcer said. “We have to remember that not everyone is capable of doing this. And some people have the right to vote, but they don’t need a driver’s license yet, and they don’t need it for other purposes. They just don’t need that ID card, so they don’t get it. You have to remember that the old people don’t have a driver’s license anymore and they don’t care about the identity of the state, what would they use it for, someone will card them out? »

Ohio has a voter identification law, but having photo ID is not a requirement. Acceptable IDs also include a utility bill, bank statement, or paycheck.

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Jessica C. Bell