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Experts warn GOP is waging 'largest' attack on voting rights since Jim Crow

Republican-controlled state legislatures continue to file voter suppression bills.

By Emily Singer - March 01, 2021
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Protect the Vote rally

Voting rights experts are sounding the alarm as GOP-controlled state legislatures introduce sweeping laws to make it harder to vote.

Marc Elias, a lawyer who has built his career fighting voter suppression laws across the country, called Republicans’ efforts the “largest state-level legislative attack on voting since the end of Jim Crow.”

The term “Jim Crow” refers to the decades after the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction when Black Americans were segregated from white Americans and were prevented from voting through a system of laws and tactics such as poll taxes and gerrymandering.

Republicans have made opposing voting rights the central tenet of their party, and are currently engaged in a bizarre competition with each other to see who can impose and enact the most grotesque voting restrictions,” Elias said Monday in a webinar with reporters.

Voter-suppression legislation, all rationalized by lies from Donald Trump and his GOP allies that the 2020 election was rife with fraud, is already moving through Republican-run legislatures.

It is being introduced not only in states where Democrats saw success in 2020, such as Arizona and Georgia, where Democrats now control all four Senate seats and where President Joe Biden was the first Democrat since the 1990s to win the presidential election.

It’s also being introduced in states like Iowa and Montana, which Trump carried and where Republicans had other down-ballot success.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled House on Monday plans to pass a bill that would require ID to vote by mail, end Sunday early voting — specifically targeting Black voters — and limit the number of ballot drop boxes that can be used.

The Iowa Senate passed a bill last week that would shorten the early voting period by nine days, limit county election officials from automatically mailing absentee ballot application forms to registered voters, and even end voting hours at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

A total of 253 bills have so far been proposed in state legislatures to restrict voting rights, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Elias said the fact that states like Iowa — where Republicans have had success at the ballot box in recent years — are working to make it harder to vote proves that Republicans are introducing this kind of legislation to appease their base, which now believes Trump’s lie that the election was stolen and that the only solution is election legislation.

Trump is still telling the lie months after he lost, saying in a Sunday speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference that states should pass laws to ensure future elections can’t be “stolen,” including stricter voter ID laws, limits on who can vote absentee, and tougher signature-matching laws that would lead more legally cast ballots to be thrown out.

Polls show Republicans have bought the lie Trump and Republican lawmakers have told about voter fraud, with 77% of Republican voters saying there was “widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election,” according to a Dec. 10 Quinnipiac survey.

“They are doing it because they are trying to curry favor with a failed, one-term president,” Elias said. “They are afraid of Donald Trump, and they are afraid of the anti-voting coalition that he has built, that he has lied to, and that is now demanding ever-greater restrictions on voting and ever-greater undermining of American democracy.”

Elias added that the legislation coming from GOP lawmakers is aimed at minority and young voters who overwhelmingly back Democrats in elections, saying that the bills target these voters with “surgical precision.”

The Republicans fear demographic changes and they are trying to change the rules of voting to disenfranchise Black, brown, and young voters,” Elias said.

Elias is not the only voting rights expert sounding the alarm about the GOP assault on voting rights.

“I don’t say this lightly. We are witnessing the greatest roll back of voting rights in this country since the Jim Crow era,” Michael McDonald, an elections expert and professor at the University of Florida, tweeted last week.

The government accountability group Common Cause in Georgia called the bill the Legislature is set to vote on Monday “Jim Crow with a suit and tie.”

As Republicans work to pass voter suppression bills, Democrats in Congress will vote on HR1, a sweeping voting rights bill that seeks to expand access to the ballot box by making it easier to register to vote, and easier to vote by mail.

According to the bill’s chief sponsor. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), HR1 “will create automatic voter registration across the country, ensure that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full voting rights restored, expand early voting and enhance absentee voting, simplify voting by mail, reduce long lines and wait times for voters and modernize America’s voting system.”

Biden supports the bill.

“In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country, this landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen American democracy,” the White House said Monday in a “Statement of Administration Policy” that says Biden would sign the bill if it made it to his desk.

However, HR1 faces uncertain odds in the Senate, where Republicans could block the legislation with the filibuster, a procedural maneuver that requires 60 votes for bills to advance to an up-or-down vote. Given that the Senate currently has a 50-50 partisan split, Democrats would need Republican support — which is unlikely given Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has panned the bill.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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