With the midterm elections in the United States scheduled for November, Congress’s struggle to pass federal voting rights legislation has prompted Democrats and electoral rights activists to worry that the time for reform is running out.
“The honest answer to God is that I don’t know if we can do that,” US President Joe Biden told reporters earlier this month. “As long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged, I’ll fight.”
Despite extensive lobbying efforts, the Democrats’ failed attempt to change Senate’s longstanding rules and Biden’s passionate call, Congress has failed to pass major bills that supporters say will increase federal voting protection.
“The inability of Congress to pass legislation that has been updated for the 21st century is truly disappointing,” Poi Vinicakul, a staff lawyer at the Southern Legal Center for Poverty, told Al Jazeera. “We will witness pressure from changes in the election legislation, which will have particularly severe negative consequences for black voters.
Opponents argue that legislation setting national voting standards gives the federal government too much power over local decisions.
“We do not need these bills because we do not need a federal election process. The United States is doing a good job of managing its elections, “Jessica Anderson, executive director of the conservative Heritage Action group, told Al Jazeera. “If Delaware, Joe Biden’s home state, wants no days to vote early, and Georgia wants 21, that’s great. It’s up to the states to choose. “
Americans are divided on how to approach this basic principle of democracy.
Conservatives say they fear ballot box fraud and want to ensure the election is secure. But Democrats accuse Republicans of deliberately trying to make it harder to vote to disproportionately affect non-white voters. Neither side trusts the other to implement any electoral reform measure in good faith.
Countries on the battlefield
In many countries on the battlefield, liberal and conservative activists have made voting a key issue. Several state legislatures passed new laws last year to reconsider their voting processes. In terms of access to ballots, the record was mixed, according to an analysis by the Brennan Justice Center at New York University: 19 states passed laws that made it difficult for Americans to vote, while 25 states passed laws “with provisions that expand access to voting.”
Last year, Heritage Action promised to spend $ 10 million on a campaign to lobby government officials over voting laws. The campaign, which focuses on eight key states on the battlefield, aimed to pass laws requiring voter identification, restricting the use of absentee ballots and promoting policies to verify the citizenship of voters and voter lists.
It has had some success: after the 2020 election, states such as Georgia and Texas passed bills that radically changed their voting processes. In March 2021, Georgia passed an important voting bill that amended the rules on absentee and early voting, changed the way votes were counted, and gave powers to the State Electoral Council. It also limited the time available to apply for voting by mail and added new identity requirements.
Georgia’s law served as a wake-up call for liberals, who saw the effort not as a defense of voter integrity but as a smokescreen to raise barriers in front of the ballot box.
“It creates combinatorial and cascading effects,” Winichakul said. “As it creates obstacles for people to vote, it puts pressure on the backs of election administrations. But this can cause longer lines, chaos and confusion.
“Even if we don’t see long wholesale queues across the state, we will see that they affect black voters, other colored voters, people with disabilities, students and other transitional groups. We will see this among people who need more voting opportunities because they can work in three jobs and do not have time to cast their ballots during working hours, now that the ballot boxes are not available 24 hours a day. ”
The debate on these issues comes at a time when millions of Americans have become distrustful of the voting process.
Since the 2020 election, former President Donald Trump and his allies have filed dozens of failed lawsuits challenging the results. And yet, despite Trump’s continuing talk that the election was “rigged,” his own administration found no evidence of widespread fraud to change the outcome. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear his disputes against election results in the states on the battlefield, while thorough counts in Georgia and Wisconsin have confirmed that Biden has won.
Yet Trump’s claim that the election was stolen has caught the ears of millions of Republicans. About 30 percent of Americans believe the election was stolen by Trump, including two-thirds of Republicans, according to a poll conducted by the Institute for the Study of Public Religion last September.
At a news conference earlier this month, Biden himself gave a vague and complicated answer to reporters who asked if he thought the 2022 election would be “legitimate” without federal reforms. Biden’s spokeswoman later said the president “does not question the legitimacy of the 2022 election.”
Texas also saw a fierce fight for voting rights last year. In September, Texas passed a new voting bill that opponents say will restrict access to the vote, but supporters say it maintains fair elections.
Among other provisions, the new law stops counties from offering car voting, suspends 24-hour early voting, and prohibits local election officials from sending unsolicited mail requests to prospective voters. It also gives polling observers from both parties more freedom to observe the vote count and calls on the Texas secretary of state to check voter lists for people who say they are not citizens when applying for a driver’s license.
The fight for access to ballots has inspired Texans like Teichler Coleman, an experienced Democratic activist who works to register voters in the state while traveling and living full time in a cargo van converted for camping. Texas law prohibits people from registering new voters without county approval, Coleman said, so she is working to become a sanctioned registrar in all of the state’s 254 counties.
“You cannot register at the state level. You have to go to each county and introduce it in person to that county, “Coleman said. “There should not be so many barriers between Americans and their fellow citizens to help them register to vote.
This is a project that may take months, but she hopes it will be fruitful when the mid-season comes this autumn: “I think it’s really hard for people to imagine the impact of this kind of law, no matter how favorable they can read on paper … for everyday Americans. “
In fact, the by-elections will serve as a test of how the latest changes in the situation will develop, while showing whether the issue will motivate voters in another controversial election season.
“There is a lot of support for the right to vote because these issues are so important. It’s a really impressive organizational effort, “Winichakul said. “But it’s just going to have to happen 100 times as it’s growing this year.”