Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
America often praises itself as the bastion of democracy in the world. Maybe not anymore. The White House on Tuesday documented efforts being taken to prevent many people, especially people of color to cast their ballots in various states.
The decline of the American democracy can be measured in the way many now see voting as a threat rather than a means to elect a legitimate govermnent.
But do not take it from Today News Africa. Below is what the White House shared on Tuesday, a litany of actions being taken to block Black people from voting in ‘God’s Own Country.’
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Worrisome Action on Voting in the States
- Despite forward progress in some states (e.g., VA, NV, NY, and KY), and successful defense against regression in others (e.g., gubernatorial vetoes in WI and PA), an alarming number of states (e.g., GA, FL, IA, MT, KS, AR) are erecting new barriers to voting, with additional serious barriers threatened elsewhere.
- A special session in Texas began on July 8, and Republicans introduced a bill that would place stringent new limits on options available for voting and would allow partisan poll watchers to undermine the nonpartisan administration of elections. On July 12, Democratic legislators attempted to block the bill by depriving the state legislature of a quorum for the second time.
- State-sanctioned actions like the sham “audit” in Arizona—where the legislature gave conspiracy theorists access to 2020 election ballots without consistent rules or supervision—have further eroded faith in the electoral process.
- On July 7, a Pennsylvania state senator asked for records that may spark a copycat “audit” in Pennsylvania.
Supreme Court Action
- Recent U.S. Supreme Court cases have greatly weakened existing federal tools to combat regressive voting laws. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) that, in jurisdictions with the most troubled histories, stopped discriminatory voting changes before they could take effect.
- On July 1, the Brnovich decision sharply narrowed Section 2 of the VRA, a provision that allows courts to stop voting laws with a discriminatory effect. The Court’s decision increased both the burden on plaintiffs in such lawsuits and deference to states defending discriminatory laws.
- In the last few years, the Court has also limited the capacity to prove intentional racial discrimination, and has effectively shut federal courthouse doors to claims of undue partisanship. In light of this, it is now very difficult for private advocates—and even harder for the Department of Justice (DOJ)—to address current anti-voter legislation with existing tools. It is important to note, however, that federal legislation could restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended reach.
- President Biden strongly supports restoring the VRA through the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), filed in the prior Congress as H.R. 4. Hearings to develop a record to withstand court scrutiny are underway.
- The President also strongly supports the For the People Act (H.R.1), which would:
- Set some basic national standards for voting in federal elections, including early voting, voting by mail, and modernized voter registration;
- Restrict partisan gerrymandering, as states draw new district maps; and
- Reform campaign finance and basic ethical rules for federal officials.
President Biden’s Actions on Voting Rights
- In March, President Biden signed an all-of-government Executive Order directing agencies to determine how they might better distribute voting information and increase opportunities to participate in the electoral process, including voters with distinct needs (e.g., people with disabilities, tribal communities, servicemembers, and individuals involved with the federal justice system). The White House is running an interagency process to ensure full implementation.
- To highlight the Administration’s efforts, the President named Vice President Kamala Harris to lead a fight for voting rights in the public arena; appointed pathbreaking leaders with voting rights experience at DOJ, including Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke; and requested a 16% increase in funding for the Civil Rights Division in the Budget.
- These commitments are paying off: DOJ has made protecting voting rights one of its top priorities. On June 25, DOJ filed a VRA lawsuit against Georgia’s new voting law. DOJ also directed all federal prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to prioritize prosecuting violent threats against election workers, and launched a cross-component task force to centralize reporting. DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has doubled the size of its voting rights enforcement staff, with new hires currently coming on board. Additionally, DOJ will publish guidance explaining the civil and criminal statutes that apply to post-election audits and early voting and voting by mail. DOJ will also publish guidance on redistricting, in order to deter violations.