By Michael Gelman
The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy. Yet in 2021, we have a fundamental disagreement about whether democracy is good or bad for the United States of America. It’s not framed that way by those who seek to undermine our democracy, but that is exactly what we are debating, and if those who oppose democracy prevail, the American experiment could come to an end.
Donald Trump and his cronies are continuing to tell another big lie: that the 2020 election was stolen. Trump and the GOP continue to falsely claim that supposed voter fraud and other irregularities denied him the presidency.
The reality is that Trump’s Big Lie is a cover to legitimize voter suppression. Trump lost by 7 million votes. The Republican solution is to prevent a critical mass of those voters from voting again by making it harder to access the ballot box.
Just three months into 2021, at least 43 states have introduced more than 253 Republican-backed voter suppression measures in state legislatures. On March 8, for example, the Georgia Senate passed a bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting. Not to be outdone, the Georgia House passed a bill making it a misdemeanor to give voters in line food or water. Another Georgia bill aimed directly at the Black community would end voting on Sundays, a community tradition. Bills in other states would reduce voting hours, make it harder to vote absentee or impose burdensome identification requirements.
The insurrection on Jan. 6 that Trump incited with his Big Lie was a taste of the America we will become if Republicans succeed in the biggest effort to disenfranchise voters since the days of Jim Crow. Is this the America we want to live in – an America where voting is intentionally made difficult, not to protect the integrity of elections but to protect a party whose white nationalist base is too small for them to win on the merits of their ideas?
All Americans should be outraged by these attempts to roll back the clock, but Jewish Americans in particular know that the best defense against oppression is a fully functioning democracy. When the rights of some are taken away, the freedom of everyone is imperiled.
We need to see these Republican attempts at voter suppression for what they are: attempts by a party that fears it cannot win legitimate elections and seeks to gain power by depriving Americans of their most fundamental right, their right to vote. It is no accident that the Americans most at risk are Black Americans and others who have fought so hard for the right to vote. The GOP has become the party of white supremacy, and while the insurrectionists on Jan. 6 were not wearing white hoods, their message was loud and unmistakably clear.
We can and must fight every voter suppression bill in every state, but we cannot expect to stop all of them, nor can we rely on a court system soiled by four years of Trump appointees. The only answer is to pour our time and energy into convincing the Senate to follow the House’s lead and send S.1, the For the People Act, to President Biden’s desk.
The For the People Act, which passed the House, would defend our democratic elections from voter suppression efforts at the state level by supporting clean and fair elections. It includes many important reforms, including some aimed specifically at preventing vote suppression, including automatic voter registration, expanding early voting and absentee voting, reducing long lines and wait times for voters and modernizing America’s voting system. It would reverse the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act.
We cannot become complacent. In much the same way that COVID has attacked the physical health of our communities, voter suppression attacks the soul of our nation by undermining the essence of the democracy that so many have fought so hard to nurture and protect. There is a vaccine for voter suppression: the For the People Act. The question is whether we or the anti-vaxxers will prevail, and we cannot afford to let the Senate succumb to viral misinformation on an issue so central to our way of life.
Michael Gelman is a member of the owner group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes
Washington Jewish Week, and is a member of the board of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.