Congress Must Defeat the Continued Insurrection Against American Democracy

By Rep. Jim McGovern and iVote Founder Ellen Kurz | NewsWeek (Op-Ed)
Feb 8, 2021
Editorials

The Capitol insurrection isn't over. In Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country, the assault on American democracy that began on January 6 rages on.

In Georgia, the GOP has moved to end the absentee voting process that produced record turnout in 2020. Nevermind that investigations and independent analyses found no evidence of voter fraud. Nevermind that it was the Republican legislature that passed absentee voting rules in the first place, or that until this past election, more Republicans voted absentee than Democrats or Independents.

Peach State Republicans are specifically targeting low-income Black and Latino communities. Knowing that access to printers is scarcer in poorer neighborhoods, they are moving to require voters mail in print copies of government ID—twice—in order to receive and return a ballot.

These moves are the latest in a long line of efforts by Georgia Republicans to disenfranchise voters of color, including targeted purges of voting rolls and the closures of voting locations in overwhelmingly Black and Latino precincts.

A similar effort is underway in Arizona, where Republican legislators aim to purge voters from the state-administered early voting lists. The early voting program has been run without incident and to huge popularity for more than a decade. As in Georgia, Arizona's early voting program was set up by Republicans and typically elected Republicans before 2020. The GOP is now seeking to require notarization of all absentee ballots. Yes, notarization. The cost of copies and notaries is not just an absurd logistical hurdle; it's an unconstitutional poll tax.

If the 2020 election taught us anything, it's that our democratic system is more fragile and more in need of reform than we thought. That work must begin urgently and it must begin at the national level. Congress must act to ensure the cancerous tumor we found on January 6th does not metastasize across the country, state by state.

Congress must pass comprehensive protections of our electoral system, addressing the oldest and newest methods of corruption alike. We must limit the undue influence of super PACs and corporations with stricter campaign contribution caps, and introduce small-donor matching with public funds. We must criminalize voter misinformation efforts. We must require heavily trafficked websites, like Facebook, to publicize names of advertisers who pay them more than $500 a year. And we must ban indiscriminate voter roll purges that are used to disproportionately disenfranchise Black, Latino and low-income voters.

Most importantly, we need to help more people participate in our elections. Any legislation must enable automatic voter registration (AVR) and make vote-by-mail (VBM) systems permanent and universal—not just when there's a global pandemic. AVR has been responsible for the greatest increase in voter registration in history, and states where it's been implemented have increased voter registration by up to 90 percent, particularly among vulnerable populations like the elderly and working Americans.

H.R. 1, the For the People Act, includes all these critical reforms and more.

The GOP has long decried voter expansion efforts—first by dismissing them as a partisan ploy to boost the Democratic vote, and more recently by raising the red herring of voter fraud. Their opposition to higher participation has a specific, craven goal: To make voting harder for eligible citizens they don't think will vote red.

Time and again, we've witnessed clear and frightening GOP efforts to suppress the votes of communities of color. False cries of fraudulent votes, targeted purges of registration rolls, selective polling station cuts, implementation of "use it or lose it," voter ID laws and rank intimidation through the use of "poll watchers" all aim to stop votes. And these only scratch the surface.

Republicans at all levels of government have embraced this sordid playbook. This needs to stop, and the only way to do that is for Congress to step in. Every American deserves political representation that ensures their voice is heard and their vote is counted.

In her moving poem on Inauguration Day, Amanda Gorman captured the meaning of the attempted insurrection on January 6, saying, "We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it." As we're seeing, those forces are alive and active in Republican-controlled legislatures. If we are to live up to her prognostication that "while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated," we must pass H.R. 1 now and stop those who would shatter our democracy not just in the halls of our Capitol but in the laws of our land.