The 2020 U.S. election had the highest voter turnout in more than a century, and according to former President Donald Trump’s own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, was the most secure in modern American history. But despite the success of last year’s election, amid the worst pandemic in 100 years, the Republican party is now engaged in an effort to make it more difficult for millions of Americans to vote.
Based on Donald Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ alleging massive voter fraud and election irregularities in 2020, Republican legislators in 33 states have proposed more than 165 bills to restrict voting, in what many observers assert is a blatant campaign of voter suppression that mainly targets communities of color. At the same time legislators in 37 states have introduced over 500 bills to expand voting access.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Sylvia Albert, director of the Voting and Elections program at Common Cause. Here, she talks about the work she and others are doing across the country to oppose the GOP-sponsored voter suppression bills and support the expansion of voter access.
SYLVIA ALBERT: It is very striking that what we’ve seen across the board by legislatures, mostly Republican legislatures, is an attempt to suppress the vote. We saw record turnout this year and it was partially due to the various ways that voters were able to access the ballot — be that early vote, vote by mail, dropboxes or in-person voting on Election Day. And that was a really successful election. And we know that it was the most secure election.
Unfortunately, what we are seeing now is really legislatures saying, “Oops, sorry, we didn’t actually want you to vote.” And that is really the only way I can interpret these laws that are being proposed — laws that would revoke no-excuse absentee voting. Laws that would require you to submit a photocopy of an ID if you tried to vote absentee. Laws that would cut early voting or ban dropbox usage. All of these proposals tell me that these legislators don’t want constituents to vote.
SCOTT HARRIS: Sylvia, most of the supporters of these voting restrictive bills rationalize it by claiming there was massive fraud at the polls echoing the same baseless charge that Trump and many Republican politicians leveled at the election in 2020 that somehow mail-in ballots permitted massive fraud and stole the election from Trump. Is this what you’re hearing from state legislatures? That these new bills are predicated on the false notion that there was massive fraud in 2020?
SYLVIA ALBERT: That is what state legislatures are publicly saying. But I believe and many of my colleagues believe that these legislatures know full well that that is false and do not in any way believe The Big Lie, but are using it to their political advantage.
SCOTT HARRIS: And generally speaking, what’s the dimension of racism that we see here? We saw the Republicans after the 2020 election target various majority communities of color in cities, trying to disqualify votes from places like Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Milwaukee and others — just a brazen attempt to disenfranchise millions of American voters, but mostly targeted on black voters living in large cities in battleground states. What can you say about these attempts at new voter suppression legislation and whether or not they’re continuing to target black voters?
SYLVIA ALBERT: I do believe they are absolutely continuing to target black voters. The Georgia legislature itself passed no-excuse absentee voting in 2005. And it’s been used over the last 15 years, but mostly not by black and brown voters. And so it’s only now after those voters have used this avenue that they are now attempting to undermine it. Also, we saw extreme turnout in black communities through early vote. We saw, you know, five-, six-hour lines on every single day of early vote. And again, legislators are trying to cut early vote. We know that Souls to the Polls is a great Get Out the Vote opportunity in the black community of moving voters from their churches together to march to a polling location. So, attempting to close down early vote on weekends again is clearly to me directed at black and brown voters.
SCOTT HARRIS: Sylvia, one of the overarching remedies to voter suppression is a piece of legislation known as the For the People Act, H.R. 1. Tell us a bit about that piece of legislation, which I believe was voted on and passed in the U.S. House, but blocked in the Senate last year. But it’s up again and what would it do to confront and push back against voter suppression tactics, state by state?
SYLVIA ALBERT: Well, what this law would do would be to make sure that every American had the same rights and the same access to the ballot. And that your access did not depend on your zip code. So whether you live in Texas, Oklahoma or California, you would be able to register to vote online and you would be able to vote absentee, if you so desired and you would be able to vote early if you so desired. So this bill would basically say to legislatures, sorry, you can’t take away these rights. They are enshrined in federal law. This is the floor.You cannot go below that. And unfortunately, what we’re seeing is that without the For the People Act and other federal legislation, there is nothing to stop state legislatures from eroding the right to vote for the constituents that they don’t want to vote.
For more information, visit Common Cause at CommonCause.org.