White Home, Dealing with Voting Rights Defeats, Expands Funding

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WASHINGTON – Amid an onslaught of state-level voting restrictions and the deadlock in Congress over voting legislation, the White House on Thursday detailed a multimillion-dollar plan to register voters and tackle voter suppression.

In a speech at Howard University, Vice President Kamala Harris said the Democratic National Committee would invest $ 25 million in public relations and litigation.

“It is never too early to defend your rights,” said Ms. Harris, hours before she and President Biden met with civil rights groups to discuss voting and a police overhaul in the White House.

The White House has tried to show progress on this issue, even without legislation, after Republicans recently blocked the most ambitious proxy bill to be presented to Congress in a generation. But the investment also underscores the diminishing opportunity the Biden administration and its allies have to pass sweeping legal changes to expand voting rights and the daunting challenge they face in battling a wave of Republican electoral laws.

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said that while the White House’s commitment is encouraging, “there is no substitute for federal legislative action.”

“The Democrats have to face this fact,” said Waldman. “The bottom line, as difficult as it is, are as many obstacles as there are, there is no alternative to forceful legislative action if we are to save America’s voting rights.”

Ms. Harris, hired earlier this year to lead the government’s voting efforts, did not hesitate to describe the daunting test the government is facing. Nearly 400 bills that would restrict voting are advancing in nearly 50 states, according to a tracker managed by the Brennan Center for Justice – a point Ms. Harris made clear to the crowd in Howard.

“I think this is supposed to make it harder for you to vote so you don’t vote,” said Ms. Harris.

The Democrats have recently suffered defeat in both court and Congress on this issue.

Suffrage activists face a rocky road to combating laws passed by Republican-controlled lawmakers that make it difficult for people of color to vote after the Supreme Court upheld election restrictions in Arizona this month. In a 6-to-3 ruling, the court ruled that such legal challenges must demonstrate significant and disproportionate burdens on minority voters, a standard that suggests that courts are unlikely to overturn many of the measures Republicans enact.

That decision came days after the Senate Republicans blocked the For the People Act, leaving the Democrats with no clear path forward.

The law would have ushered in the largest federally mandated expansion of voting rights since the 1960s, ended partisan rule in the congressional districts, and created a new public campaign funding system. It also sparked disputes among some Democrats, who privately discussed moving forward with a tighter bill to quickly protect voters. Republicans had never seriously considered the larger bill, portraying it as a selfish federalization of elections for the benefit of the Democrats.

The Democrats’ greatest hope of getting a bill through would be to get rid of the filibuster, the 60-vote super-majority requirement in the Senate that Republicans were blocking the legislation. Progressives have pledged to step up pressure on a handful of moderate Democrats who oppose the abolition of the law. But these senators – led by Senators Joe Manchin III from West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona – don’t seem to be moving.

“Our position is that we are facing a state of emergency,” said Marc H. Morial, president and executive director of the National Urban League, one of the community-based organizations represented at the White House meeting on Thursday.

The struggle for the right to vote

After former President Donald J. Trump made false claims over the past few months that the 2020 elections were stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states have moved forward to pass laws that make voting harder and how elections are conducted, which changes what Democrats and Democrats even frustrated some election officials in their own party.

    • A central theme: The rules and procedures of elections have become central to American politics. According to the research institute Brennan Center for Justice, the legislature had passed 22 new laws in 14 states by May 14 to make the voting process more difficult.
    • The basic measures: Restrictions vary by state, but may include restricting the use of ballot boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting postal ballot papers, and removing local laws that allow automatic registration for postal voting.
    • Other extreme measures: Some measures go beyond changing voting behavior, including adjusting electoral college and judicial voting rules, cracking down on citizen-led electoral initiatives, and banning private donations that provide resources to conduct elections.
    • Recoil: These Republican efforts have led the Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A major suffrage bill was passed in the House of Representatives in March, but it has faced difficult obstacles in the Senate, including from Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans have remained closed to the proposal, and even if the bill went into effect, it would most likely face major legal challenges.
    • Florida: Measures here include restricting the use of mailboxes, introducing additional identification requirements for postal ballot papers, requiring voters to request a postal vote at every election, restricting who can pick up and dropping ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the vote counting process.
    • Texas: The Texas Democrats successfully blocked the state’s extensive voting law known as SB 7 in a nightly strike and launched a large nationwide registration program that focuses on racially diverse communities. But the state’s Republicans have promised to return in a special session and pass a similar voting bill. SB 7 includes new postal voting restrictions; granted the party election observers a broad new autonomy and authority; escalated penalties for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting.
    • Other states: Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a law that would restrict the distribution of postal ballots. The bill to remove voters from the state’s standing pre-election list if they do not cast a vote at least every two years may be just the first in a series of voting restrictions enacted there. Georgia Republicans passed sweeping new electoral laws in March that restrict ballot boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. And Iowa has imposed new restrictions, including shortening the deadline for early voting and voting in person on election day.

Mr Morial said activists had spoken about the restrictions passed by the Republican legislatures, as well as voting changes that could win Mr Manchin’s support. You have also spoken out strongly against a national voter identification law.

“We propose that the full weight, prestige and power of the harassed presidency pulpit stand behind this fight for democracy,” said Mr. Morial.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has reached out to the Department of Justice, which filed a lawsuit last month over a comprehensive voting bill passed by a Republican-led Georgia legislature.

Democratic National Committee money announced Thursday continued the pressure, Ms. Harris said. The $ 25 million investment is on top of the $ 20 million that Jaime R. Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has pledged to spend ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

“We all know this is nothing new,” Harrison said Thursday. “It’s the spirit of Jim Crow.”

In her speech to Howard, Ms. Harris emphasized the value of voting. “Our democracy is strongest when everyone participates,” she said. “Our democracy as a nation is weaker when people are left out. So this is the fight, this is the fight of our lives. “