By Angus King, Senator from Maine
When I was Governor of Maine, I used to have a standing bet with my fellow Independent Governor, Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, about which of our states would have higher voter turnout. As we saw it, that was what our system is all about— the more engagement we drove in our democratic process, the more effectively our government could recognize and respond to the challenges facing our citizens.
It seems that mindset has shifted over the last few decades. Over the past year, legislatures in 19 states have enacted laws that make it harder for the American people to exercise their right to vote. These laws will disproportionately harm low-income Americans, communities of color, individuals with disabilities, and other historically disenfranchised groups. Instead of responding to the problems facing these voters, these legislatures have prioritized adding new hurdles to the fundamental act of casting a ballot.
I truly don’t know if these laws will disadvantage one party or the other—you only need to look at the recent gubernatorial results in a typically-blue Virginia to see that Republicans can still win competitive races with large voter turnout.
But regardless of the political ramifications, these laws are a threat to the fragile American experiment that promises a government of, by, and for the people—all the people. In order to preserve democracy (lower-case ‘d’), Congress must act to defend voting rights for all citizens.
The point of democracy should be the greatest amount of participation by the greatest number of people; anything less betrays our ideals.
In the Senate, I’ve backed two bills that would institute commonsense voting protections to ensure that no state can enact laws infringing on their citizens’ right to vote. The first, the Freedom to Vote Act, includes widely popular provisions including no-excuse absentee voting, mail-in voting, and designating Election Day as a federal holiday. The second, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, should be even less controversial—the bill would restore the Voting Rights Act, which was most recently reauthorized on a unanimous basis in 2006, 98-0. Sixteen years later, only one Senate Republican has endorsed this previously non-controversial proposal.
Republicans have launched attack after attack against these bills, claiming that any proposals to change election laws must be done through a bipartisan process while refusing to actually engage in any bipartisan negotiations. I’ve long said I would welcome my GOP colleagues to the negotiating table to build a consensus, but during our months of work those invitations have been consistently declined.
But their lack of participation doesn’t mean the bill isn’t widely popular with the American people. The truth is, polling shows that the provisions included in these bills have wide bipartisan support across the nation —everywhere, it seems, except within Congress. (continued)