Campaigners fight back as Juneteenth milestone undermined by discriminatory GOP voting bills

“We are always trying to make Juneteenth’s promise a reality, especially when it comes to voting rights,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a community rights group, which launches on Saturday. a new Freedom Rides bus tour from Mississippi to Washington, DC, to highlight restrictive election laws that disproportionately target black voters.

“The holidays indicate what a country values. The symbolism of having that vacation – I don’t want to underestimate that,” Albright said. But he added on CNN’s “New Day” Saturday: “We cannot let the holidays replace the advancement of calls for freedom, including the right to vote.”

The bus tour is just one of many Florida Texas voting campaigns designed to channel alarm and anger over new Republican state laws as Democratic activists call for an aggressive response from leaders national. They redouble their efforts to register voters, educate them on the new regulations so that they understand the new rules on requesting ballots, and have time to verify their registration and acquire acceptable identification documents. – as some GOP-led legislatures push these measures under the guise of making elections safer.

Nick Rathod, former special assistant and deputy director of intergovernmental affairs to President Barack Obama, said the Democratic Party and its donors must now launch an aggressive voter education effort to explain the new requirements for voting, especially in states the red ones who did make it harder to do so and don’t wait until right before the election when most people start thinking about voting.

“In places like Florida and others where this is happening, I think it should be expanded and continue,” said Rathod, who called on top party leaders to get involved.

The new sense of urgency on the ground and within the Biden administration – where Vice President Kamala Harris has made the issue a key part of her portfolio – reflects Democrats‘ concern that they are likely to be too late to counter restrictions and attempts to vote by the GOP. politicize non-partisan electoral rules ahead of the 2022 midterm and the 2024 presidential election.

The effort to galvanize Democratic voters around the issue will come to a head next week when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to hold a key test vote on legislation that would protect voting rights.

Democrats have been working all week to address West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin‘s concerns over the party’s election overhaul bill, known as the For the People Act, as reported by Alex Rogers and Manu Raju from CNN. Democrats want to make sure their 50 senators present a united front on voting rights legislation next week, even if they stand no chance of winning the 60 votes needed to break an obstruction. Republicans argue that the Constitution gives states, not the federal government, the responsibility of conducting their own elections. But the party also has little incentive to support legislation it says would benefit Democrats in many states.
Democrats’ quest to arm voting rights in next year’s midterm elections would be complicated by Manchin’s defection on the bill due next week, allowing Republicans to argue it there was bipartisan opposition to the legislation. Manchin has long said he hoped to convince GOP members to support a compromise proposal and he circulated a list of his ideas earlier in the week, but GOP leaders quickly hushed up the idea that they could find a bipartite consensus. After Georgia voting rights defender Stacey Abrams expressed support for the West Virginia senator’s compromise proposals, Senate Republicans quickly rushed to Abrams’ opening not to support her.

Local activists face new restrictions

With the slim majority of Democrats in the Senate giving them limited options in Congress, some local groups are stepping up efforts to register voters and educate them on how to overcome the hurdles that state-level Republicans are putting in place. place for the next electoral cycle.

In Florida, the non-partisan, predominantly black-run Equal Ground Education Fund marks June 15 by targeting voters affected by new state laws in four counties. The group is concerned about the new requirements for obtaining a mail-in ballot, among other things. Floridians must now produce a driver’s license, state ID or the last four digits of their social security numbers to get a mail-in ballot. For in-person voting at polling stations, voters in Florida do not need state ID and can use a debit card or library card, for example, to establish their identity.

Studies have shown that black and Hispanic voters are more likely to have difficulty producing official ID than white voters. In Florida previously, people had to register for a mail-in ballot every two election cycles, but now they have to do so in every election – a step Democrats say could kick out some of their voters in their mid-term. .

Equal Ground’s board director Jasmine Burney-Clark hopes strong education efforts can help motivate Floridians to challenge these new barriers to voting in the state’s new law, which also restricts the supply of water. voters in traditionally long queues often seen in minority areas. The law was signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a close ally of former President Donald Trump and a possible candidate for the White House in 2024.

“Our hope is that (the new law) will not deter people from participating, but it will increase their energy around the elections and motivate them to keep voting by whatever means necessary, because elections really do have consequences,” said Burney-Clark. The group hopes to reach at least 1,000 voters this weekend at the start of a growing campaign until the mid-term.

Florida is just one of many Republican-led states that have acted swiftly, using the foundation of Trump’s lies about voter fraud to pass new laws to restrict access to mail and in-person voting. – many of which disproportionately affect voters in towns and regions where minority voters live.

Between the 2020 election and mid-May, at least 14 states enacted 22 new laws that restrict access to the vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. As of mid-May, at least 61 bills containing restrictive measures were passing through 18 state legislatures.

Pressure on Washington

President Joe Biden has repeatedly called such state laws “un-American,” and while Harris has added the effort to protect voting rights to his portfolio, some Democrats want to see more engagement from Washington in the fight against Republican restrictions.

“The president, vice president should use their chair of intimidation to shed light on what’s going on in these places and help motivate and galvanize people in states across the country to organize themselves to better understand and find out what’s going on, “said Rathod, Obama’s former special assistant and deputy director of intergovernmental affairs.

Some Democratic activists believe the Biden administration‘s Justice Department should have done more to prevent the Republican maneuvers in Arizona that led to a partisan audit of the ballots.

Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed last week to aggressively tackle restrictive voting measures.

“There are a lot of things that are open for debate in America. But the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them,” Garland said in a speech in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice, outlining a 30 day plan. doubling the number of staff in the Civil Rights Divisions’ Votes Execution Unit.

Frustration with Congress remains.

“I have the impression that our national representatives are not operating as aggressively as the state legislatures,” said Burney-Clark. “The think tanks that make the law and hand it over to these lawmakers – they move fast, they go state by state. They are strategic about how they operate.”

The inaction of Congress has led others to intervene. A wave of lawsuits have been filed in Georgia, for example, against a list of new voting-restricting measures that were hastily passed shortly after Democrats won tight control of the US Senate in two run-offs in January. . A nationwide campaign featuring prominent black leaders has targeted Atlanta giants like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. Both companies backed off after trying to stay out of the controversy and issued statements criticizing election laws passed by Republicans.

In Texas, Democratic lawmakers left the State House floor to temporarily block a restrictive voting bill before the end-of-session deadline last month, depriving the Republican majority of the quorum it needed to pass the bill. of law. (Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to bring back the legislation at a scheduled special session).

Seeking national Democratic support, some of the state’s lawmakers traveled to Washington this week, hoping to push for a federal response.

In a meeting with more than a dozen Texas lawmakers on Wednesday, Harris described her take on what’s at stake – although she has yet to define exactly what her role will be on the issue: “We know that we have a great challenge ahead of us, and therefore a fight, which is the fight for the right of all Americans, a meaningful right, to vote,” she said.

Senior administration officials said Harris would try to build coalitions of Americans concerned about the right to vote and help publicize the damage that would result if state legislatures were successful in passing more restrictive election laws. Harris met behind closed doors with four voting rights advocates in Atlanta on Friday and was joined by Georgia Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas and Democratic presidential candidate who has advocated for expanded voting rights, told CNN on Friday that he and other activists were staging a “massive rally” on Sunday night in the Texas Capitol, and he echoed Abrams’ urging of Americans nationwide to call their senators and demand action.

“It’s the kind of pressure that will help get something moving,” O’Rourke said. “It is not enough to have a show or a token vote.”

This story and title have been updated.

About Therese Williams

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