Anchor Staff Writer
Last Thursday, the Georgia State Legislature passed a piece of legislation designed to severely limit the ability to vote in the state. This “Election Integrity Act'' has anything but integrity. It has been called, with good reason, “Jim Crow 2.0.” Not since the Jim Crow era have there been such extreme attempts to restrict the voting of people of color. This 95-page bill allows for unlimited challenges to voter eligibility, allows for state officials to take over election boards, restricts drop boxes, requires an ID for mail-in ballots and most flagrantly of all, criminalizes giving voters waiting in line food and water. All of these restrictions disproportionately harm people of color.
This is, of course, in reaction to the recent presidential election, when Georgia flipped blue largely due to the mobilization of voters of color. The last presidential election was also the most secure election that the United States has ever had. Yet despite this, since 2021 began, 253 different bills have been introduced with the intention of making it significantly harder to vote.
Republican legislators, as all of these bills have originated from the Republican party, defend the bills as intended to protect elections from voter fraud. Again, after the most secure election that this country has ever had. What’s the real ‘fraud’ then? That more people, especially more people of color, are voting than ever. For a party that widely campaigns on racism as a selling point, this is a problem.
The HR1 For the People Act, an act to protect voting rights, has been introduced in Congress. It has been decried by Republican politicians and conservative news outlets as a “power grab.” However, this bill grabs power only for one group: the American people. If ensuring that every citizen is able to vote is rigging elections for Democrats, that signifies an issue with Republicans, not Democrats. If Republicans are unable to win voters and elections based on the quality of their ideas, they do not deserve to be winning elections.
The For the People Act would be a massive win for civil rights across the country, particularly for people of color. The bill includes so many important and crucial protections for voters. It would require that every state across the country has same-day voter registration, at least two weeks of early voting and automatic voter registration. The bill would also expand the right to vote by mail and make Election Day a national holiday, something crucial for lower-income Americans who cannot take the day off without risking their income or their jobs altogether. The bill would also establish criminal penalties for those who would intimidate voters or intentionally spread false information to prevent voting. It would restrict voter purging, a tactic used widely by Republicans to remove less “desirable” voters (read: voters of color) from the registry. It would also require states to use independent commissions to draw congressional district lines which would effectively thwart gerrymandering. These are only some of the good that could be achieved through the For the People Act.
It is not going to pass though. Not unless we get rid of the filibuster. The filibuster involves a congressperson speaking for an extended period on the senate floor and requires a supermajority to pass a piece of legislation rather than a simple majority. As a result, many bills with majority support not only with ordinary Americans but within Congress as well do not get passed. The filibuster has had one main purpose in all the years it has been in use: blocking progressive legislation, particularly civil rights legislation. During the early 20th century it was utilized by white supremacists to block legislation that would protect Black Americans, such as bills that would make lynching a crime and that would outlaw poll taxes to keep Black people from voting. By the Civil Rights era, it was being utilized in attempts to block the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since then, Republicans have consistently used it to block Democratic legislation. It is an undemocratic process mentioned nowhere in the Constitution and it is more apparent than ever that it needs to be abolished.
Right now there are two holdouts on abolishing the filibuster: Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Manchin and Sinema both present themselves as moderate Democrats and thus are unwilling to, in essence, do anything to upset the status quo and risk their political careers.
Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, has recently said that by refusing to abolish the filibuster, Manchin and Sinema are “in effect, supporting racism,” and he’s right. Right now, there are 253 voter suppression bills in 43 states. If Congress does not pass the desperately needed For the People Act to protect civil rights, “Jim Crow 2.0” will become the new reality. Manchin and Sinema have a choice: to protect racism or to protect democracy and civil rights. They can’t do both.