Democracy Experts: Federal Action Needed to Ensure Fair Elections

Thursday, January 13, 2022

For Immediate Release:
Contact:
Roger Kerson, rkerson@democracyinitiative.org, 734.645.0535
 

Democracy Experts: Federal Action Needed to
Ensure Fair Elections

“Big Lie” about 2020 fuels voter suppression, intimidation against election
workers; Panelists at National Press Club event “perplexed” by Sinema remarks on
filibuster

WASHINGTON, DC — As the U.S. Senate considers historic action this week on voting rights and reform of the filibuster, leading democracy experts today urged federal lawmakers to protect the right to vote and ensure free and fair elections.

“We achieved record voter turnout in 2020, despite a pandemic and despite widespread, devious efforts to block access to the ballot,” said Diana Philip, chief of staff at the Democracy Initiative, a coalition of 75 civil rights, gender rights, labor and environmental organizations with a combined 45 million members. “Instead of building on this historic achievement, too many states are rolling back reforms and making it harder to vote.”

In 2020, 19 states passed 34 laws that restrict access to the ballot, with many measures targeted at Black and Brown communities. In 2022, even more states—including Florida, Michigan and others—are considering further changes to make elections more friendly to entrenched politicians and less friendly for voters.

“At the foundation of every other right is the right to vote. In the face of efforts to destroy our democracy at the state level, the American people need federal intervention to safeguard that right,” said Taifa Smith Butler, president of Demos, a New York-based think tank that works to create a just, inclusive multiracial democracy. “Following a clear display of Black and Brown voters’ political power in 2020, we witnessed immediate backlash in the form of anti-voter legislation in several states. This is a coordinated attack on our democracy. Congress must act to save it now.”

“The ‘big lie’ about the 2020 election has metastasized, with disinformation about our elections used as a pretext for state laws making it harder for voters to cast their ballots,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, a watchdog group with chapters in 30 states. “There is also a growing—and alarming—trend of efforts to subvert accurate counting of election results—up to an including threats and intimidation against election officials.”

Philip, Butler and Hobert Flynn spoke at a virtual National Press Club-sponsored Headliner news conference. A recording of the session is available here.

Panelists said they were “perplexed” by statements made today by Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on the Senate floor, stating her support for voting rights legislation but opposition to changes in Senate rules. Just 35 days ago, they noted, Sinema supported a carveout to filibuster rules to pass an essential increase in the U.S. debt ceiling. And 74 of the present 100 incumbent senators have voted, at least once, for modifications to the filibuster rule.

“This fight is far from over," said Philip. "The filibuster needs to be addressed to allow other legislation which seeks to meet people where they really are in their lives. Not addressing Senate rules reform means that not only voting rights, but also workers' rights, immigration reform, gender justice, climate change and other crucial issues will continue to be ignored due to mere threats of a filibuster."

Experts agree that U.S. democracy is under siege as never before. Election officials in 12 states received nearly 800 intimidating and/or threatening messages in 2020 including more than 100 that met the threshold of potential prosecution. Approximately 800,000 swing state voters received robocalls with messages to stay home on Election Day.

The U.S. Senate is anticipated to vote this week on legislation to ensure fair elections and protect democracy. The Freedom to Vote Act will set national standards for voter registration, early voting and vote by mail. The bill will also ban partisan gerrymandering, protect against voter purges, enact strong election security provisions, and ban the practice—recently enacted in Georgia—of preventing people from providing food and water to those waiting in line to vote.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will restore and strengthen key voting rights protections which were gutted by a wrong-headed Supreme Court decision in 2013. Since that ruling, which ignored legal precedent, several states have moved to restrict access to the ballot and dilute the voting power of Black and Brown communities.

If this legislation is blocked, the Senate is expected to debate and vote on changes to its filibuster rules.

Recent polling data from Politico/Morning Consult shows broad support for key voting reforms:

  • 55% of respondents favor expanding vote by mail
  • 65% favor expanded early voting
  • 55% favor same-day voter registration
  • 64% favor limits on partisan gerrymandering

“At this historic moment, our challenge is to make real the promise of a multiracial, inclusive democracy,” said Butler. “We’re prepared to meet that challenge. Federal voting rights legislation is one part of the solution and must move forward without further delay.”

"Voters have overcome Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, Jim Crow, and global pandemics to continue extending the franchise and the promise of democracy and freedom to more and more people," said Hobert Flynn. "If voters must overcome a polarized Congress and threats from anti-democracy insurrectionists, I am confident that we the people will save democracy if the politicians can’t."

“If Republicans in the U.S. Senate continue to say ‘no’ to common-sense reforms that are supported by a majority of voters, then it’s time to fix or nix the filibuster,” said Philip. “If there’s a choice between the arcane rules of the U.S. Senate and protecting our democracy, then we choose democracyevery time.”

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