Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy. If we don’t protect that sacred right, then our vote — our voice — on issues from climate change to criminal justice reform to everything in between will not be heard. It’s not hyperbolic to say that this current battle against the GOP’s efforts to suppress the vote may be the last stand for our republic.
Alarmingly, though, the GOP is winning its war on our democracy. Since January, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Republican-controlled state legislatures have enacted 22 new laws
to make it more difficult to vote. Republicans in Texas are currently pushing to enact a sweeping voter suppression measure that will make it harder
for citizens to cast a ballot despite a Texas election official testifying that the 2020 election was “smooth and secure
.” Even more alarming is that some of these new laws could allow
GOP state officials to nullify the will of the people by making it easier to overturn the election results.
What is missing from the Democrats’ discussion on protecting our democracy is what Martin Luther King Jr. famously called
“the fierce urgency of now.” In fact, that was the very point made by a group of civil rights leaders who met
with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris last week to emphasize that time is running out to protect our democracy.
One of the attendees, Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, stated
afterward, “We emphasized to the President that our backs are against the wall,” adding, “This is the moment. There is no more time.”
Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League, who also attended the meeting, warned
that we cannot “leave any stone unturned to save American democracy,” given there’s an effort by some on the right to impose an “American apartheid.” Ifill noted that she and others at the meeting implored Biden to “use his voice, use his influence, use his power” to push for a federal law to save our democracy.
Former 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, a leader in the fight against the Texas GOP’s efforts to enact voter suppression legislation, expressed
that very sentiment on my SiriusXM show last week. O’Rourke warned that while Republicans are “focused with everything in their system” on enacting law that threaten our democracy, Democrats are not fighting against it “with the same urgency or power that the situation really demands.”
Biden has repeatedly vowed
to make a national speech on voting rights, telling reporters just last week that he will be “going on the road on this issue.” Great, but two things. First, it’s time to make that speech. Second, Biden can’t do it alone. It will take Democrats in Congress to help him.
Congressional Democrats need to raise alarm bells in the media by delivering a unified message with Biden and members of Congress flooding the airwaves. Yes, I know Democrats aren’t always the best at messaging, but in this case the message is both urgent and simple: “Save our democracy!”
House Democrats in March did pass
the sweeping “For The People Act” that protects voting rights in a host of ways — but it has since languished in the Senate. Even the voting rights compromise
proposed by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to win bipartisan support without losing the backing of progressive Democrats is unlikely to pass the Senate because the filibuster means it needs the support of 10 Republican senators.
My hope is that if the airwaves are filled with Democrats raising red flags about the GOP’s un-American war on voting
, it will raise the heat on Democratic senators to carve out a filibuster exception to bills on voting rights. (This is the so-called “nuclear option” that can be deployed by a simple majority rather than the two-thirds majority needed
for a broader change of Senate rules.)
Democrats in Congress should also play hardball by threatening to withhold infrastructure funds to any state that imposes laws that make it harder to vote. As a reminder, the US Supreme Court in the 1980s upheld
Congress withholding federal highway funds if states didn’t increase the drinking age to 21.
Martin Luther King’s famed “fierce urgency of now” line was followed
by the words, “There is such a thing as being too late.” That is the danger we face today when it comes to our democracy. If Democrats while in control of the White House and Congress don’t immediately use every means available to save us from the GOP’s authoritarian trajectory, we may never have the chance again.