It’s a battle as old as America itself: which citizens, if any, get to vote for their leaders.
First, colonists fought for the right to determine the course of our new nation — and to elect their own leaders. It took years of fighting. Blood was spilled. Lives were lost. But when the smoke cleared from the battlefield, some, but not all of the citizens of this new nation, were given the right to vote.
With all of its lofty language, the documents that created this shiny new republic did not give the right to vote to a majority of the people who lived in it.
Years later, the fight was over whether or not to allow people with dark skin to enter a voting booth and cast a ballot. Again, the fight was long, blood was spilled, and lives were lost.
Then the fight was whether women should be allowed the right to vote—a right enjoyed by their husbands, brothers, and fathers. Later, young men and women who had the right to fight and die in defense of their country were finally able to vote when the voting age was lowered.
Looking back, it is clear that each battle made our democracy stronger.
The current struggle
Unfortunately, even after the voting rolls were expanded, some who have always had the right to vote continued to try and keep others from actually casting a ballot on Election Day.
Today, after a crushing defeat, Republican legislatures in 43 states have proposed laws which, if fully enacted, would dramatically limit the right and ability of citizens to vote. In fact, 250 pieces of legislation, with the sole purpose of restricting minority communities, the poor, and young people from voting, have been filed.
Many of these efforts revolve around limiting mail-in voting. But there are other sinister proposals that would also make voting more difficult. Some make it harder to use “drop boxes.” Others raise the bar for voter identification, restrict voting on Sunday, and sharply reduce polling hours on weekends.
One effort, in Georgia, makes it illegal to give a voter standing in line food or water. When I commented, on social media, that this was a ridiculous proposal, I was told that giving food or water was a form of “buying their vote.” Well, of course, that explains it. I can see it now: hundreds of people standing in a voting line for hours on end just for the chance that someone might give them a lukewarm bottle of water. What rubbish!
In neighboring New Hampshire, legislation has been filed to make it harder for college students to vote.
What these Republicans are doing is no secret. Not one of these pieces of legislation is anything more than a brazen attempt to reduce the likelihood that certain groups of people will be able to cast their ballot. Not one is based on any evidence of fraud or abuse other than evidence which shows that the more people vote; the more likely they are to cost Republican lawmakers their jobs.
In response, Democrats in the House of Representatives proposed HR1 the “For the People Act” which has three main planks: curbing the influence of money in politics, strengthening government ethics laws, and expanding voting rights. It’s the voting rights plank that draws the most political acrimony.
Despite the fact that the legislation has broad public support — 67% of likely voters including 56% of Republicans support passage — Republicans in Congress have all lined up to oppose it.
Among other things, the expanded voting rights legislation includes automatic voter registration, requiring 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, and creates an independent redistricting commission in states to draw new congressional districts. It also prohibits states from restricting a person’s ability to vote by mail.
A frightening scenario
Perhaps the most frightening Republican effort is taking place in Georgia where officials are on the verge of enacting legislation which would allow lawmakers to seize control of county election boards and literally change or discard the results of elections when the results are not to their liking.
Think back just a few months ago when Trump and a few of his allies tried to get local and state officials — those charged with preserving the integrity of the vote — to “find” enough ballots that would overturn the results. After multiple recounts and unprecedented political pressure, election officials held their ground and the integrity of the election was preserved.
However, under the new rules, state Republicans would be able to strip these officials of their power and take control of the election. Now remember how many Republicans lawmakers were willing to contest the 2020 election results even when every Republican election official and judge charged with reviewing the results certified that they were legitimate.
Legislation like this is worthy of Russia but not of the world’s oldest democracy.
Throughout our history, battles have been fought to include more Americans in the democratic process. Each time, the cause has been just. And with each victory, our nation has moved a step closer to being the type of democracy that we can all be proud of.
Today, our democracy is under attack by people fighting not to expand our it but to control political power. If we allow them to win, we weaken our nation. Making it easier for every American to vote is a cause worth fighting for.
Email Raymond V. Mariano at firstname.lastname@example.org. He served four terms as mayor of Worcester and previously served on the City Council and School Committee. He grew up in Great Brook Valley and holds degrees from Worcester State College and Clark University. He was most recently executive director of the Worcester Housing Authority. His column appears weekly in the Sunday Telegram.