Pro-polluter politicians are pushing a host of new restrictions on voting rights in state legislatures across the nation, including North Carolina. Meanwhile in Washington D.C., critical legislation to secure voting rights nationwide faces potential blockage in the U.S. Senate. The outcome of this struggle will determine whether we retain the ability as citizens to safeguard our planet’s future.
Legislators in more than 30 states have already introduced bills to make it harder to vote — establishing strict voter ID laws, reducing early voting times, eliminating same-day registration and voting, adding requirements to the use of absentee ballots and reducing the window of time for their return, and more.
Such voter suppression legislation just signed into law in Georgia even makes it a crime to provide food and water to voters waiting in long lines to vote. Sylvia Albert of Common Cause called the Georgia bill, which includes multiple other severe new restrictions on voting, “one of the harshest, most restrictive anti-voter bills we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era.” Moreover, she pointed out that over 250 proposed new “voter disenfranchisement laws” are being pushed this year “in state after state after state.”
These bills’ supporters claim they were inspired by the rampant but false claims of widespread fraud during the 2020 elections. They try to brand the legislation as “voting integrity” bills, continuing the Big Lie.
On the other hand, voting rights advocates call these bills efforts to suppress voting, especially voting by Black and other minority voters. The bills are put forward by cynical politicians afraid they will lose their own elections if too many historically marginalized citizens overcome the roadblocks put in the way of their full participation in the democratic process. Civil rights veterans compare these new voter suppression bills to the Jim Crow laws of the last century.
This flood of similar attacks on voting rights is no coincidence. Model bills have been developed and pushed out by polluter-funded organizations like the Heritage Foundation’s Heritage Action for America arm and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in response to key losses last fall by pro-polluter candidates. These groups see states like Arizona and Georgia moving out of their political grasp, and will stop at nothing to stem their losses. ALEC is the same organization which has for years originated many anti-environmental bills, such as the one now being pushed in multiple states, including North Carolina, to make it harder for cities and towns to implement clean energy plans.
As the first volley in what could be a string of such bills in our state, Senate Bill 326 would would cut off absentee ballot requests a week before the election and require their delivery to Boards of Elections no later than 5 p.m. on Election Day, ending the three-day window after Election Day which has long been state law. Gov. Cooper’s veto will likely stop this and other bills from succeeding, but pro-polluter legislators will still try to keep themselves in power.
This rising flood of new voter suppression laws at the state level has helped energize the push for national legislation to protect and expand voting rights. The most important of these is HR1/S1, the For the People Act, which would enact key pro-democracy reforms:
- Creates independent congressional redistricting commissions, and standardizes criteria for drawing maps that prohibits racial and partisan gerrymandering
- Requires automatic voter registration, online voter registration, and same-day voter registration at the polls
- Makes Election Day a federal holiday, and mandates 15 days of early voting
- Requires verifiable paper ballots instead of touch-screen machines
- Protects people from voter roll purges, and restores voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences
- Creates a public campaign financing system, and mandates Super PACs to publicly report all donors
- Requires presidential candidates to publicly disclose ten years of tax returns.
HR1 passed the House a few weeks ago, and a hearing was held for its Senate companion (S1) last week. President Joe Biden supports these reforms, and has pressed for their quick passage. Unfortunately, prospects of getting action past the arcane rules minefield of the U.S. Senate are far cloudier. In the evenly divided Senate, most legislation currently must be able to command 60 of 100 votes to be approved. Overcoming those barriers will take a herculean effort, and could trigger filibuster reform.
Advocates for clean air and water, environmental health and justice, and climate action agree future prospects for positive action on those priorities depend on encouraging full and vigorous voter participation. League of Conservation Voters Voting Rights Program Director Justin Kwasa called S1 “a sweeping democracy reform package that will expand and protect the freedom to vote, end partisan and racial gerrymandering, get polluter money out of politics, and restore transparency and accountability in our government. Passing S.1 and unrigging our political system would return power to the overwhelming majority of people in this country who want to see meaningful action on climate change and clean energy.“
“Since the 2020 election, state legislatures across the county have introduced more than 250 bills aimed at strategically silencing the voices of Black, Indigenous and other communities of color from our democracy,” continued Kwasa. “We’ve seen Georgia pass bills that limit early voting and eliminate no-excuse absentee voting. Arizona is trying to pass bills that would purge voter rolls and make it harder to vote without a driver’s license. These attacks have made it clear that federal legislation is needed that will ensure we have a democracy that is representative of and responsive to all of our communities.”