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During the pandemic, access to voting increased and contributed to higher voter participation in 2020. Since the election, there have been efforts to reduce voter rights based on disinformation about voter fraud.
The Brennan Center for Justice reported that more than 250 bills have been proposed in 43 states this year that would restrict access to the ballot. Some proposals take away the vote-by-mail option, some tighten ID requirements, some rig the redistricting process, some slash voter registration opportunities, some purge voter rolls and others directly attempt to suppress democracy. This includes ways for state legislators to modify the election process if they do not like the results.
Recently in Georgia, the governor signed a bill to make access to fair elections much more difficult, to make giving food and water to voters waiting in line to vote a misdemeanor and to give state legislators the option to remove the secretary of state and change memberships on county election boards after the election process.
Texas has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country, and yet their governor is supporting additional restrictions, taking aim at local governments. In Harris County, which includes Houston, officials want to send applications to vote by mail to every registered voter and to provide widespread drive-thru voting. Texas lawmakers are proposing to prohibit counties from sending out mail-in applications unless they are requested by a voter, bar drive-thru voting and require voters with disabilities to provide documentation before being allowed to vote by mail. These proposed laws would have a disproportionate effect on under-represented voters and suppresses our democracy.
A few years ago, at an October Celebrate Democracy event at the Doña Ana County building, a local elected official told the audience, “We are not a democracy; we are a republic.” This suggests that suppression of democracy did not start this year. Our government can be called a representative democracy or a democratic republic.
The republic part of our government provides an organizational structure. It’s a form of government where the power a) rests with the people, b) is exercised through representative government and c) has a fairly elected head of state. The democracy component provides ideology and values that include access to free and fair elections for every qualified voter, citizen participation for all and human rights to express peaceful opinions and participate in government without fear or intimidation. When these values are under attack in any state, they are under attack in the whole country.
What can we, the people, do? Send thank you notes to our U.S. congressional representatives when they support legislation that expands voting rights and strengthens our democracy. Charge them to immediately pass the For the People Act (HR1 and S1) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. These acts will help stop voter intimidation and the spread of disinformation. Also advocate for passage of the Civics Secures Democracy Act (HR1814), which authorizes funding for federal civics-education grants. If we want a healthy representative democracy, we must stand up for it!