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Voting rights fight kicks up as Election Day draws nearer

Voting rights fight kicks up as Election Day draws nearer

The battle over who gets to vote in November is heating up with increased action in Congress and Speaker Mike Johnson and former President Donald Trump promising tough “election integrity” legislation soon.

Prompted by the record 2020 turnout, Republicans in Congress and state legislatures are pushing bills that advocates warn will suppress racial minorities and disadvantaged people.

Democrats meanwhile are working feverishly to make voting easier ahead of a high-stakes election.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin has recently hosted voting rights hearings as Judiciary Committee chair. “Of course, you’d like to keep people aware of the fact that it’s still a challenge,” Durbin told us.

Clearly, most of the action here is at the state level. With a GOP-controlled House and Democratic Senate, not much will be done on this issue at the federal level ahead of November.

Against the odds: In February, Durbin and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) reintroduced the John Lewis voting rights bill. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), the only Black member of Alabama’s delegation, is leading the House version as her state remains at the center of voting rights activism.

Another bill by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) would empower voters to sue any state or local government that makes it harder to vote.

But voting rights legislation, including the John Lewis bill, has proven difficult to pass in recent years. Still, sponsors say they’ll keep introducing bills until everyone has equal rights.

“We should continue to tell the experiences of everyday people who find it impossible almost to get access to the ballot,” Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), who recently led a Judiciary Committee field hearing in Alabama, told us.

Republicans, including Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), cite the historic 2020 turnout to argue that Democrats’ efforts are unnecessary.

The Trump-Johnson move: During his visit to Mar-a-Lago earlier this month, Johnson said House Republicans would introduce a bill making it illegal for non-citizens to vote. Of course, it’s already illegal for undocumented immigrants to vote, and there’s no evidence of this being a widespread problem.

But activists worry Trump and Johnson’s planned legislation could further suppress eligible voters and particularly put Latino voters at risk when they go to the polls.

Tough realities: Needless to say, all of this is just posturing in a divided Congress. In the meantime, Durbin is hopeful voters will choose “people who are for the right kind of change.”

Butler views the bills as crucial for holding lawmakers accountable for their positions.

“Until we have 60 senators who see that equal access to the ballot is a foundation of our country, we are going to continue to introduce the legislation and to make senators here tell the American people that they don’t think everybody should have access to the ballot,” Butler said. “Until we pass this law, the only alternative is defiance.”

— Elvina Nawaguna

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.