Voting Rights For All Is Essential For Democracy

Heather Cox Richardson

House Republicans appear to be barreling toward a government shutdown, unable to agree even to debate a bill to fund the military. That rejection made Republican leadership pull from the floor a continuing resolution to fund the government into October. Extremist members simply refuse to agree to any bill that doesn’t cave to their demands. And, as NBC News reporters note, “The House [Republican] chaos is worse than it may appear.” The bills over which they are currently fighting cannot possibly pass the Senate. Government funding ends on September 30.

And so a small minority of extremists are threatening to shut down our government. Such a shutdown would have global as well as domestic repercussions: the Pentagon warned that a government shutdown would disrupt U.S. military aid to Ukraine, including training for military forces. Hamstringing our ability to help Ukraine stand against Russia, refusing to fund the Pentagon, and Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville’s hold on military promotions that has left more than 300 top military positions vacant all undermine our national security. This is an astonishing position for Republicans, who used to pride themselves on their support for the military. 

That such a small number of extremists can shut down our country speaks to the power of voting. Four days ago, Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off a month-long tour of college campuses to mobilize younger voters to “fight for our freedoms.” Today is National Voter Registration Day, and in Reading, Pennsylvania, she noted that young people have spent their whole lives in the climate crisis, have seen the Supreme Court stop recognizing the constitutional right to abortion, and have spent their earlier years practicing active shooter drills. They are now stepping up to lead the country toward solutions.

Harris told a cheering, overflow audience at the Reading Area Community College that voting “determines whether the person who is holding elected office is going to fight for your freedoms and rights or not. Whether that be the freedom that you should have to just be free from attack, free from hate, free from gun violence, free from bias, free to love who you love and be open about it, free to have access to the ballot box without people obstructing your ability to exercise your civic right to vote, in terms of who will be the people holding elected office and leading your country.” 

The political power of young voters will be important in determining the outcome of the 2024 elections. In Pennsylvania today, Democratic governor Josh Shapiro announced automatic voter registration when people are getting or renewing a driver’s license. The governor tweeted: “We got traffic moving on I-95 in just 12 days. We delivered universal free breakfast for 1.7 million students. And today, we implemented automatic voter registration. There’s more to do, but we’re getting stuff done in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

In Congress today, the Democrats, led by Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL) reintroduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which passed the House in 2021 but was stopped by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. 

This measure would restore and modernize the 1965 Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted it. Until that decision, Congress had regularly reauthorized the Voting Rights Act on a bipartisan basis, but as soon as the decision was handed down, Republican-dominated state legislatures passed voter suppression laws, gerrymandered their states, and closed polling sites, measures that made it more difficult for Black Americans, many of whom backed Democrats, to vote. In the decade since the decision, Sewell noted, at least 29 states have passed a total of almost 100 laws restricting voting.

Sewell represents Selma, Alabama, where civil rights activist and, later, Georgia representative John R. Lewis was beaten by law enforcement officers when he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge with other civil rights activists marching for the right to vote. She noted, “Generations of Americans—many in my hometown of Selma, Alabama—marched, fought, and even died for the equal right of all Americans to vote. But today, their legacy and our very democracy are under attack as MAGA extremists target voters with new laws to restrict voting access. Ten years after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the fight for voting rights has never been more urgent.”

The reason for voter suppression was made clear again today when, in a pattern that has continued since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wadelast year, no longer recognizing the constitutional right to abortion, Democrats won two elections. In New Hampshire, Democrat Hal Rafter flipped a state House seat formerly held by a Republican. And in Pennsylvania, Democrat Lindsay Powell won a special election in Pittsburgh, enabling Democrats to hold control of the Pennsylvania House.

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