As Build Back Better recedes in immediacy, liberating (at last) time and space to focus on voting rights, the republic faces ongoing tribulation. 400 laws have been submitted to state legislatures to alter terms for voting access, redistricting is in its final stages following the Covid-skewed census of 2020. And now Congress faces a final test of this session: Will the Voting Rights Act and/or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act get a hearing in the Senate? Will it get a vote? Will a majority (which includes the vote of the president of the Senate, Kamala Harris) alter the filibuster rules so that either or both of the acts can advance?
Many citizens feel the right to vote is not a partisan matter. How people vote is of course a matter of partisan commitment. But the act of voting exists in the limnal space beyond our toxically polarized politics.
So how will this embroglio be resolved? Can it even be addressed?
So much of what is critical in our polity and our society remains outside the realm of discourse and deliberation. Matters ranging from childcare to mask-wearing fall into a chasm of vituperation before anyone can express a thought. How, then, can we collectively decide how to use our resources, where to apply our energy, what deserves priority? The sense of futility surrounding politics motivates surrender by tens of millions of citizens of their interest or engagement in the process. This is the death of democracy — moreso than any gerrymandering shenanigan or ill-intentioned voter ID law.
It feels like a matter of democratic life or death for us to face up to the quandry: How do we protect voting rights? Who gets to decide if a voter is denied a ballot? Will the voter be informed of a change in his/her voting status? What authority will count the vote? Can that authority be overruled, and if so, by what means?
These are the crucial challenges we face. The pending voting rights bills begin to address them.
Avoidance is not an option.
Denial is not an option — not if we are to “keep our republic, if you can,” as Franklin challenged an onlooker following the Constitutional Convention.
We can. We must. And this is not partisan. Voting and the right thereto is NOT partisan. It is the soul of democracy. And it is worth a fight.