From Insurrection to Voter Suppression

The Story of the Week 🏆 and the fight for democracy

In a sane world, elected Republicans would have followed up the insurrectionist horrors of January 6 by moving back toward reason and democracy. Instead, they’ve chosen to keep going.

In a sane world, GOP members of Congress would accept that the Big Lie of election fraud had taken them and their party down a dark road of political violence, threats of assassination, and the promise of more violence to come from their extremist base.

But we are not living in a sane world, not when the response is to keep alive the question of whether Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were elected fair and square. In this refusal to acknowledge reality, we can smell the rank odor of conspiracist Trump and the other birthers (including his wife), determined to leave the sour impression that maybe, just maybe, Barrack Obama really wasn’t born in America.

And while this all may seem familiar from America’s viciously unjust Jim Crow past, we are not living in a sane world when Republicans applaud or stand by with brutal self-interest as 43 states aggressively push some 253 bills intended to suppress the vote.

Taken together, this follow-up to the insurrection may not be violence, per se, but it is violence against our democratic system in order to hold onto power—the will of the people be damned. It’s why we should pause and recognize the danger this portends, not only for the passage of a democratic agenda but to fend off the end of democracy and the imposition of autocracy by a sociopathic minority.

Let’s restate first principles: A healthy democracy makes it easier to vote, not harder. A healthy Senate votes in lockstep to strengthen our democracy, not fight tooth and nail to sabotage it. A healthy country never forgets, in word and deed, that one person, one vote is the sacred principle men and women have spilled blood and died for as long as we’ve had a republic—and even longer.

I’d suggest that the insurrection is not over; it’s just moved onto its next phase. Seventy-two days since the deadly attack on our Capitol, Republican members of Congress who helped incite this horrific event are still roaming freely in the halls of the Capitol, as if they are not culpable for their role.

And in a staggering display of hostility to the majority of Americans, particularly people of color, state compatriots from Georgia to Arizona are relishing their power-grabbing opportunity to rewrite state laws: Purge voters from the rolls, get rid of same-day and automatic voter registration, end mail-in and absentee voting, stop early and weekend voting, among other moves.

Consider this from Iowa, which saw record turnout, no reported fraud and Republican wins for President and Senate. The response by the GOP-controlled legislature was to vote to shorten early voting by nine days and close polls an hour earlier. The justification from Iowa state Senator, Jim Carlin, now running for the US Senate: “Most of us in my caucus and the Republican caucus believe the election was stolen.”

In Arizona, where 24 bills have been pushed forward to restrict voting, Republican state representative John Kavanagh said his party’s ugly truth out loud: “Democrats value as many people as possible voting…but everybody shouldn’t be voting.” After four solid years listening to this kind of desecration of democratic values, we might almost miss how vile this thinking is, but we can’t allow ourselves to be immune.

In short, these state bills are not stealing the vote, they are stealing the right to vote. As Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock put it in his eloquent speech in the Senate chamber: “Make no mistake. This is democracy in reverse.”

Here’s how the Washington Post summarized this backward march:

“Multiple scholars and historians said the proposed restrictions would amount to the most dramatic curtailment of ballot access since the late-19th century, when Southern states effectively reversed the 15th Amendment’s prohibition on denying the vote based on race by enacting poll taxes, literacy tests and other restrictions that disenfranchised virtually all Black men.”

All this brings us to the newly passed H.R. 1 voting rights act, the For the People Act, now sitting in the Senate. Its passage can override these state laws and give our democracy a fighting chance to head in the right direction again. It’s why ending the filibuster has become paramount, indeed a response to an existential threat. (Beyond that: efforts by Stacey Abrams and others to pressure corporate America to oppose voter disenfranchisement and shut off GOP donations.)

Let’s return to the vivid words of Sen. Warnock, whose historic January 5 victory was quickly followed the next day by the white supremacist-fueled attack on the Capitol and its inhabitants:

“I stand before you saying that this issue—access to voting and preempting politicians’ efforts to restrict voting—is so fundamental to our democracy that it is too important to be held hostage by a Senate rule, especially one historically used to restrict the expansion of voting rights.”

I leave you with my own one-sentence summary—and look ahead to the necessary fight for the health, indeed survival, of our democracy.