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Voting Rights

Demonstrators at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on March 3, 2021 protest a voter suppression bill, which was later passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. (Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Democrats Introduce Right to Vote Act to Beat GOP Voter Suppression Blitz

"As Republican-led legislatures weaponize the Big Lie to attack our free and fair elections, it is more important than ever for Congress to affirm that voters have a right to participate in our elections."

Brett Wilkins

Amid ongoing nationwide Republican voter suppression efforts, a trio of congressional Democrats on Wednesday introduced a bill described by its lead Senate sponsor as the "first-ever affirmative federal voting rights guarantee for all U.S. citizens."

"In recent years, states like Georgia have launched an all-out assault on our democracy. The Right to Vote Act would stop this attack and prevent a new era of Jim Crow."
—Rep. Mondaire Jones

The Right to Vote Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) and in the upper chamber by Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), would for the first time establish a statutory right to vote in federal elections, shielding Americans from laws making it harder to cast ballots.

If passed, the bill would allow Americans to mount legal challenges to any policies that restrict ballot access, and would counter governments' efforts to suppress the franchise by compelling them to prove claims of voter fraud—a statistically insignificant occurrence.

"The right to vote is foundational in our democracy, and must be protected as such," Jones said in a statement. "But in recent years, states like Georgia have launched an all-out assault on our democracy. The Right to Vote Act would stop this attack and prevent a new era of Jim Crow by requiring states to prove that any proposed restrictions on the right to vote advance an important interest in the least restrictive way possible."

"In this defining moment for our country, I'm proud to introduce this important legislation to secure the sacred right of every American to make their voice heard in our democracy," he added.

The measure was first put forth by Jones in March as an amendment (pdf) to the For the People Act, a sweeping pro-democracy bill that would expand voting rights including for former felons, curtail partisan gerrymandering, strengthen ethics rules, limit money in politics, implement the DISCLOSE Act, and make Washington, D.C. a state—among other reforms.

Speaking about the Right to Vote Act, Jones told HuffPost he is "focused on getting this passed as a stand-alone bill."

Harvard law professor and election law expert Nicholas Stephanopoulos warned earlier this year that the For the People Act "doesn't include any catch-all provision applicable to all voting limits," and that it "leaves open the door to novel barriers erected by wily vote suppressors."

Since former President Donald Trump and his GOP congressional supporters unsuccessfully attempted to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, Republican lawmakers in 49 states have introduced over 400 bills with provisions that restrict voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. At least 18 of the measures have been signed into law.

"As Republican-led legislatures weaponize the Big Lie to attack our free and fair elections, it is more important than ever for Congress to affirm that voters have a right to participate in our elections," Padilla said in a statement, referencing the false claim the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.

"The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy," he added. "When that foundation is undermined, Americans must have a clear standard that enables them to defend their right in court."

"The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. When that foundation is undermined, Americans must have a clear standard that enables them to defend their right in court."
—Sen. Alex Padilla

One of the more high-profile voter suppression measures, Georgia's Senate Bill 202 (pdf)—signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in March—imposed new identification requirements for voters casting ballots by mail, limited the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, introduced new challenges to voting eligibility, prohibited mobile voting vans, barred local governments from receiving private sector grants, and outlawed handing out food and water to people waiting in what can be notoriously long lines to vote. 

"As voting rights are under attack in Georgia and across the country, the Right to Vote Act protects American citizens' fundamental right to vote," a statement from Ossoff's office said.

Adriel Cepeda Derieux, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said: "As we've seen in recent months, voter suppression is alive and well, with over 18 states passing bills making it harder for people to cast a ballot. The ACLU supports this bill because we need new legal tools to fight those efforts and ensure that all voters have equal access to the ballot."

In addition to the ACLU, leading voting and civil rights groups including the Campaign Legal Center, Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Demos, Fair Fight Action, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, People for the American Way, Protect Democracy, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice support the Right to Vote Act.

"In recent years, federal courts have failed to use existing constitutional and statutory protections to safeguard the freedom to vote, especially for Black and brown voters," Demos senior counsel Adam Lioz said in a statement.

"In addition to reversing the Supreme Court's attacks on the Voting Rights Act and implementing nationwide minimum standards for access to the ballot, creating a statutory right to vote freely in federal elections with clear standards for courts to safeguard this right adds a critical layer of protection," added Lioz, "which voters desperately need in the face of a racist, full frontal attack on their freedoms."


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