States Must Keep Our Elections Free and Fair

By Hannah Fried, Civil Rights

Recent baseless attacks on our democracy by lawmakers in dozens of states show the brazen lengths opponents of democracy are willing to go to avoid being accountable to voters.

In Georgia, Republican lawmakers are rushing to curtail voting methods, add voter ID requirements to absentee voting, shrink the amount of time voters have to cast a ballot, and shamelessly target Black voters by restricting Sunday early voting when Black churches typically hold “Souls to the Polls” voting drives.

In Arizona, Republicans aren’t simply using the legislature to attack voting, they are also taking aim at the policies that dictate how elections are run — and at the people who oversee them. Last month, the state Supreme Court — in a little noticed opinion — gutted the authority of the secretary of state to use her expertise to run fair and uniform elections, while legislators, less subtly, have introduced a measure to do away with the power of voters altogether and let themselves override the will of the people.

Attacks such as these open the door to violence. Just two months ago, lies and assaults on the democratic process culminated in the desecration of our nation’s Capitol. But these actions didn’t start or end at the Capitol, nor are they new in American history. Such attacks, including violent insurrection, have destroyed free and fair elections in this country before.

In 1873, white supremacist paramilitary members brutally killed Black citizens who had newly exercised their right to vote and then gathered at the Grant Parish Courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana to protect the results. The perpetrators were never punished. Instead, they used their insurrection to gain power and entrench Jim Crow laws that silenced voters for almost the next 100 years.

Historically, when voting rights expand, reprisal and violence follow. The expansion of vote by mail and safe in-person voting during the 2020 election, and the flood of disinformation that spread as the votes were counted, catalyzed reprisals across the country. In state after state, we now face a familiar threat against our elections. Nonpartisan election workers have received death threats. A right-wing mob tried to stop the lawful vote count in Detroit.

How good we are as a nation, and how strong we will continue to be, rests with our response. It’s a test our nation has faced before — and has failed. From the end of reconstruction, to the dawn of the civil rights era, state level efforts to undermine democracy have been insidious, persistent, and disastrous when left unchecked. However, if we hold accountable politicians who seek to sabotage our democracy, we won’t repeat the mistakes of our past.

All Voting is Local is on the ground in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin advocating for policies that allow all voters to cast a ballot free from discrimination and without needless barriers. Every state and community in our country must actively prevent violence and voter suppression, and that effort must be multi-pronged: to stop attempts to thwart progress, and to push further and expand the rights voters deserve.

We’re pushing back against Florida’s attempt to ban ballot drop boxes as well as Gov. Ron DeSantis’s plan to create deliberate barriers to absentee voting by requiring voters to request an absentee ballot before each election — never mind that many of the state’s county election supervisors object to the measure.

We’re calling out politicians who seek to dismantle accessible elections in Pennsylvania made possible by Act 77, which in 2019 ushered in the most sweeping voting reforms in the state in nearly a century. As a result, there was record turnout in 2020 by voters who cast a ballot securely and safely through ballot drop boxes and satellite voting offices.

We’re holding accountable election officials in Ohio who make excuses, limiting voting access to just one early vote site and one ballot drop box per county.

Voters who overcame relentless obstacles and showed up in record numbers during a pandemic have made their voices loud and clear. And we won’t go backwards. Americans deserve secure and fair access to the ballot, including equitable access to early voting locations and an end to wrongful voter purges. They expect a simple vote-by-mail process and for states to be authorized to count ballots sooner so that elections are certified on time. Supporting common sense reforms that keep our elections fair, free, and accessible is the antidote to what poisons our politics.

Americans of all races watched the destructive attempts to discredit the last election spawn a disastrous consequence. The lessons of history — and the tragic historical parallels unfolding — offer a stark reminder that both outright violence and the disingenuous legal wrangling that enables it must be stopped. The recent and prevalent threats of violence toward election officials, and figleaf state legislation that strips voters of common sense ways to cast their ballots, threaten the bedrock of American democracy.

The hard work of protecting democracy must happen not only when an election is imminent, but right now — as politicians and officials at the state level threaten to upend the progress that empowered millions of voters to overcome deliberate barriers to be heard.

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