As States Crack Down on Voting, Advocates Look to Congress

March 10, 2021
In The News

This past weekend marked the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, when voting rights marchers were brutally assaulted by law enforcement officers while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Broadcast on national television, images of state troopers attacking peaceful demonstrators, including John Lewis, a civil rights icon who went on to become a long-serving Democratic congressman from Georgia, shifted public opinion and galvanized Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). This year's commemoration — the first since Lewis's death last year from cancer — took place as many state legislatures are ramping up an assault on voting rights.... As Republican state lawmakers scramble to limit voting, congressional Democrats and voting rights advocates are going on the offensive to protect and expand access to the ballot box. Last week the U.S. House passed the For the People Act (H.R. 1), which Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, called "the most significant democracy reform legislation in at least half a century" and "the next great civil rights bill."  It passed the chamber despite unanimous Republican opposition. Sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, H.R. 1 includes provisions to strengthen the VRA, expand voting by mail, overhaul the campaign finance system by requiring full disclosure of donors and contributions, increase election security by modernizing state election systems, end gerrymandering, and make the democratic process more inclusive. "We're not pursuing this reform against the backdrop of the status quo," Sarbanes told ABC News. "We're pursuing it against the prospect that the Republicans will take things in the wrong direction, and in a significant way." Senate Democrats plan to move the bill forward, but their Republican colleagues have committed to fight with every tool available — including the filibuster, which was also used by Southern segregationists trying to block multiple civil rights laws in the 1950s and 1960s. Consequently, Democrats are now discussing filibuster reforms, with even conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia saying he's open to some changes.