Everett Kelley commentary: Nation must protect voting rights
It is no secret that our country has a troubled history with deciding who has the right to vote — and whose votes count.
While the Voting Rights Act, the law that prohibits the practice of racial discrimination in voting, was passed more than a half-century ago in 1965, we are still seeing deliberate and desperate attempts to restrict the freedom to vote in our country today.
In 2021, 19 states passed a total of 34 laws restricting the freedom to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
In Georgia, three months after Joe Biden was sworn in as president and the historic runoff elections of Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff led to Democratic control of the U.S. Senate, state lawmakers passed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s election law aimed at disenfranchising Black voters.
In Florida, even as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis called the state’s election process a “model for the rest of the nation,” Republican state lawmakers enacted new laws that place restrictions on voting by mail and at drop boxes. Now, DeSantis is agitating for a new special police force tasked with harassing voters based on tips from government officials, including himself.
While these are just two examples of the many discriminatory voting laws enacted last year, they highlight why Congress must act quickly to head off this partisan attempt to deny people in the United States the freedom to vote.
But on Jan. 19, the U.S. Senate failed to protect our rights by refusing to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. In 2006, 17 Republicans voted to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act; the fact that they have since shifted their position shows us how much, in recent years, rightwing extremists have been able to politicize an issue as basic as our freedom to choose our political leaders.
As the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing more than 700,000 federal and Washington government workers, I urge Congress to take swift action to protect our basic freedoms. State leaders should not have the authority to deny certain people the right to vote because they are unhappy with the outcome of an election.
Every vote should count, and voters have a right to choose our political leaders, not the other way around. As I reminded lawmakers, public servants defend and advance this right every day.
While it took more than a century for women and people of color to be granted voting rights — and those opposed went to great lengths to keep it from happening — our country persevered. We kept about the work of making a more perfect union, of expanding freedom, liberty and justice.
Today, we must continue in that tradition. We must continue to move forward, not backward, to ensure that all voters have an equal and fair opportunity to vote, regardless of where they live, the color of their skin or who they support at the ballot box.
The right to vote is a bedrock principle of democracy. If this Congress will not secure that right, then it is up to us to send Washington a new Congress that will.
Dr. Everett Kelley is the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees). This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.
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