Protecting voting rights is the only way to make US government work for the people | Derrick Johnson

Just weeks after a deeply unrepresentative US Senate voted down establishing a commission to investigate one of the most significant attacks on our democracy on 6 January, 50 senators who represent 41m fewer voters than the majority in power blocked bold voting rights reforms that would make our government work for the people. Already, the national conversation is pivoting away from voting rights and toward whether the same fate can be expected for other prominent bills on infrastructure and police reform.

What’s missing is a much-needed reckoning that no meaningful and lasting change on what the majority of Americans want – reforming law enforcement, bold economic recovery, but also better public schools, climate action, and high-paying union jobs, among others – will be possible if we don’t rebuild our democracy from the ground up first. That’s what the For the People Act aimed to do. By preventing politicians from skewing congressional districts in their favor, reducing the influence of special interests, and ensuring all eligible voters can make their voices heard. Simply put, there cannot be genuine economic, social, and racial justice without full voting rights and institutions that answer to the people.

The elected officials behind the more than 400 anti-voting bills and sham election audits sweeping the nation are aware of this. They know that staying in power despite their opposition to popular reforms – including ones that have already proved to benefit millions of Americans like the Affordable Care Act – requires gaming the system. They know that the vast majority of voters who do not look or think like them will vote them out if given a chance, so they target Black and Brown people to suppress our voices.

We saw this play out in real-time in 2020. Voters overcame extraordinary barriers to cast their ballot: the danger of standing in long lines to vote during a global pandemic, attempts from the sitting president to cut our postal system off at the knees, and repeated efforts from lawmakers at all levels to thwart the certification of legitimate election results – culminating in a violent attack on the US Capitol. Despite these enormous challenges, voters made their voices heard and secured historic wins in the White House, Senate, and House. Now, we are witnessing attempts to rig the system, and that starts and ends with silencing voters at the ballot box.

All around us, we see examples of how voter suppression can harm our communities. Just this week, a judge struck down Missouri’s Medicaid expansion as unconstitutional, creating even more barriers for people to access healthcare. In Arizona, the wildfires raging their way across the state continue without adequate federal action on the climate crisis, despite voters rating climate action as one of their main priorities for elected officials to address. Nationwide, our elected officials cannot reach a consensus on gun control despite the majority of Americans wanting stricter gun laws. If our leaders’ decisions were genuinely representative, they would be making decisions to improve our communities’ health, safety and welfare, not hinder it.

The ramifications of failing to protect voting rights are far-reaching. Progress on all of the issues we care about, including better schools for our children, healthcare access for all, a higher minimum wage, and justice for Black and Brown communities nationwide, is at risk while voting rights continue to be denied. Elected officials continue to box people out of the political process so they can cement their power. As constituents, we won’t accept that.

Here’s the solution: leaders in the Senate must make democracy reform a reality. That means delivering on the first tenet of our constitution: each American has a say, and we elect a government accountable to the people. This requires abolishing the Jim Crow-era filibuster that thwarted any debate or discussion around the For the People Act this week, and will continue to be used as a tool to impede progress unless the Senate takes a hard look at this relic of the past and the harm it continues to cause.

We are at a fork in the road that will dictate the trajectory of our country for years to come. There can’t be true justice or progress on the issues we care about without voting rights. The future of our country can’t wait. The For the People Act is the solution we need – and it’s time our senators make it a reality.

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