‘This Is the Defining Moment of Our Time”

Voting Rights text on United States Constitution

I am writing to you today with a dollop more optimism about the future of our democracy than I’ve had to date. 

Why? Because I listened to a talk by Marc Elias, the indefatigable voting rights attorney who knocked down so many Big Lie lawsuits in the courts during 2020, describing efforts to block/overturn the vote suppression laws springing up in so many places.

He and his colleagues are continuing their good works against the latest onslaught.

Then I watched Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department has issued some confusing decisions lately, make a full-throated commitment to do the same—and more.

Elias noted that voting rights—now—provides the “defining moment,” the issue by which our children and grandchildren will judge us in the coming years: Did we protect democracy in this crucial time? 

It’s going to take the work of a lot of people, he pointed out. One of the most egregious assaults currently is the “outrageous violence toward election officials.” 

Elias stressed that part of the success of the safe, well-run, corruption-free 2020 elections was due to the enormous number of election workers who signed on to make up for the mostly elderly people who usually serve but couldn’t during the pandemic. 

He termed the rash of “Trump-inspired efforts to terrorize election workers…another manifestation of the Big Lie.” 

To combat this criminality, Elias called for federal legislation that officially regards intimidation of election officials as a Federal crime.

But there is also good news. Elias said we should celebrate Nevada, where the government just established permanent mail-in voting, moving the state’s election law from very good to “exemplary.”

And in Vermont, the Democratic state legislature passed universal mail-in voting, and Republican Governor Phil Scott signed the expansion into law.

Elias pointed out that the Biden administration now has three of the top five voting rights advocates anywhere. He didn’t name them, but I’m sure he was referring to Lisa Monaco, US Deputy Attorney General; Vanita Gupta, US Associate Attorney General; and the newly confirmed Kristen Clarke, US Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. 

He also praised Vice President Harris’s Senate leadership on this issue, which she’s been tasked with overseeing.

The Elias talk was a good introduction to Merrick Garland’s speech, which was as strong as I’d hoped: part history, part personal commitment, part action plan.

The detailed history included a candid description of the advances and reversals of voting rights for Black Americans and other people of color since the Reconstruction. 

“Progress…has never been steady,” Garland stated, and it “has always required vigilant enforcement by Congress, the Courts, and the Justice Department.”

“There are many things that are open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, and the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.” 

He quoted Presidents Johnson, Reagan, and Bush, who unequivocally stated the importance of the right to vote. Reagan actually called it “the crown jewel of American liberties” and said “we will not see its luster diminished.”

Garland emphatically refuted all allegations of fraud in the 2020 election.

“The Justice Department will of course do everything to prevent election fraud and to vigorously prosecute it…but many of the changes are not even calibrated to address the kinds of voter fraud that are alleged.”

He harkened back to 1961, when Attorney General Robert Kennedy called Assistant AG for Civil Rights Burke Marshall into his office. This was before the 1965 Voting Rights Act implemented a pre-clearance requirement for states with a record of discrimination. The Roberts Supreme Court voided these crucial protections as unnecessary in 2013, reopening the doors to discriminatory practices. (The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, S.4, is designed to reinstate these safeguards.)

Marshall had told Kennedy that the only way to guarantee the right of Black Americans to vote was to bring individual actions in each county where discrimination was occurring. “And if you want to do that, you’ve got to have a lot more lawyers.”

This was Garland’s most important point:

“Well, today we are again without a pre-clearance provision, so again, the Civil Rights Division will need more lawyers. Accordingly, today I am announcing that within the next 30 days we will double the Division’s enforcement for protecting the right to vote. 

“We will use all existing provisions in the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act and the Uniform and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to ensure that we protect every qualified American seeking to participate in our Democracy.

He delineated an ambitious agenda to enhance voting rights and reduce interference,  addressing audits (think Arizona, where a federal lawsuit seems likely), early voting, expanded registration, redistricting (gerrymandering), and prosecuting violent threats against election workers. 

His department will work with Congress and hopes they’ll pass legislation including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, Garland said, “but we will not wait for that legislation to act.”

Here’s a link to the speech and transcript:

Many of us have been preoccupied with Senator Joe Manchin’s outsized power in preventing passage of anything, but perhaps most importantly S.1, the For the People Act—and what that will mean for the 2022 elections. 

I am wondering whether, in view of the iffy status of the far-reaching S.1, which it appears Manchin has effectively doomed, a narrow bill that protects both election workers and the tabulation and auditing of vote totals might be something that could squeak through the Senate. 

If we can get such protections soon, we can adopt a slightly longer action plan: working hard now to obtain a larger Senate Majority and a firmer House margin in 2022. 

Assuming we have the right messaging and the Democratic coalition hangs together, we might then be able to pass the bold legislation that President Biden has proposed and a majority of Americans have said they support: the For the People Act, with its dark money restrictions, and both the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan in the scope that President Biden envisions.

Infrastructure with broadband and climate protection, aid to families, immigration and police reform would all be possible; we could truly address our nation’s long neglected problems and inequities.

At the end of the Elias talk, a woman asked if it still makes sense to call her Senators every day to urge them to protect voting rights. Elias encouraged this action—do so even if your Senators support the bills.

The opposition is making a lot of noise, he said, and Senators need to hear from those of us who feel strongly about this seminal issue.

Now I must go write some post cards reminding people to sign up to vote by mail, my own effort to exert a small measure of control over events. Buoyed by Melanie Stansbury’s significant win in her New Mexico Congressional race, where a big post card campaign received some credit, I’m even more committed to this fairly tedious work.

As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

Annie

Image found via unsplash.com.

14 thoughts on “‘This Is the Defining Moment of Our Time”

  1. It’s good to hear that intimidation of election officials is now treated as a Federal crime. There should be greater accessibility when it comes to voting, which I think the pandemic has really highlighted the need for.

    “…a woman asked if it still makes sense to call her Senators every day to urge them to protect voting rights” – I can’t imagine this happening in the UK. A local counsellor would just block your number for doing that! But I absolutely think this urging of passion and the need for reform and fair voting is brilliant. It’s apathy that worries me.

    This is a fantastic look at the issue, Annie. You have a remarkable grasp of the issues and uncover them for those of us who don’t know the ins and outs so well, especially someone like me in a different country.

    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Caz, thanks so much for your generous comment!

      We don’t have that federal protection for election workers yet, but I’m hopeful.
      Yes, apathy is a great worry—especially since the press tends to minimize what gets done and maximize what doesn’t.

      So interesting to hear that a local UK counsellor would block a call. Some elected officials here are far less receptive to the public than others—especially when they’re being pressed on issues they don’t want to discuss.

      I think of you often. Take good care!

      Annie xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Encouraging, Annie. Agree with readers here that your careful research provides a detailed and balanced look at things. So valuable — and so comforting, at least on this one. (Some of your investigations lead to terrifying realizations, but hey, you follow the facts where they take you, for which I am grateful!) Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so very much, Denise! I am extremely grateful for your support. Glad you found this one encouraging. I worry about people being turned off by all the noise. That would be the worst thing imaginable!

      Like

  3. Hi Annie, It’s so sad that a process we have all taken for granted for so long is under such threat. So I’m greatly encouraged by your emerging optimism. I also take away encouragement from the ground work that is happening. I have always personally operated on the basis of “the devils in the details, work them!” BTW President Joe has been very impressive on his first European trip as president. We are looking forward to seeing him here in Ireland soon. Best Wishes . .

    Like

    1. Thank you, David. I worry that all the handwringing may discourage people from getting involved as they must if we are to keep our democracy.
      Glad to hear that nice review of our President! He’ll have a fun time in Ireland, I trust, as he’s very proud of his Irish identity.

      Best wishes to you, too.

      Like

  4. “Nevada, where the government just established permanent mail-in voting”
    Yay, I can keep on mailing my vote!
    Nevada has some very red areas (can’t call them conservative) where the most left wing choice for an elected seat is Republican, or even Tea Party. I was glad to see a Las Vegas judge kicking the Trump case out of court for being, basically, too stupid when the Trump team attempted to throw out all the votes cast after the polling places closed instead of ensuring that those who were waiting in line by then had their votes counted.
    Waiting in line to vote in this rural area means having neighbors chat you up about what a piece of scum the guy you plan to vote for is and “hey, it’s snowing, so much for “global warming” ha, ha”. I wouldn’t be surprised to find people cheerfully expecting you to agree with their flat earth views or nod along with a rant about fighting a war so we wouldn’t have to wear masks or seat belts or something…
    Mail in voting will help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this sadly colorful report, MDavis. It’s good to hear from someone who’s “on the ground.” Glad you’ll be able to vote from the comfort of your home. Maybe that will mean some blue peeking through in new parts of rural Nevada !?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The less densely populated the county the redder it is. The CNN election map was very enlightening. There is a county with fewer than 1,000 voter that went around 95% R a couple elections back. There is another that has around 5,000 that was more like 85% R. And so it goes. When you get to Washoe County (Reno) and Clark County (Las Vegas) you have found the counties that go blue. Those two counties have enough D votes compared to R that they turn the whole state blue by a narrow margin.
        There is a lot of unpopulated land here. And it gets to vote for the US Senators.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s difficult to get a perspective from over here as to whether the US is moving in the ‘right’ direction. I’ve read a lot of articles, not least this

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/28/republicans-voter-suppression-biden-100-days

    which seem to suggest that rights are broadly being rolled back. Your article, well written and superbly informed as always, brings me more hope. What are your thoughts on broader progress?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matthew, I think The Guardian article is totally accurate, sad to say. But I’m also convinced that the majority of Americans still want democracy and are willing to work hard for it. I do worry that people feeling their votes won’t count is itself potentially damaging. On the other hand, we’ve got three of the most experienced voting rights advocates in top positions in the Department of Justice. That has to mean something. I just wish they’d move faster in shutting down these phony audits and acting against people who are threatening poll watchers and state voting officials.
      Time will tell. We’re certainly not able to rest on our laurels. I can’t allow myself to think that the American experiment in democracy, flawed though it’s been, will come to an end.
      Thank you for your very kind words–and your concern. I know there’s both relief about Biden and worries about our future in many parts of the world.

      Liked by 2 people

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