The most conservative wing of the Republican party has launched dangerous attacks on our democracy in recent months. What culminated in the seizure of the U.S. Capitol Building in an attempt to stop the certification of presidential election results has now translated to a more insidious form of anti-democracy — introducing laws in state legislatures nationwide to suppress voters.
It is time that we do something to stop these efforts and to preserve our most sacred democratic institutions. This country, especially Black civil rights leaders here in the South, have fought too hard for us to succumb to dangerous rhetoric and the heinous voter suppression policies that could bring us back to the Jim Crow era.
In Virginia, I am proud that the Governor and my colleagues in the General Assembly have shown leadership on expanding the right to vote. The New York Times even described the commonwealth as a ‘voting rights bastion.’ And given our embarrassing history of deliberately suppressing the Black vote, we are finally moving in the right direction.
In the past 14 months, our state has moved to reinstate many of the critical elements of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down in 2013. We made Election Day a state holiday, enacted automatic voter registration for those with a Virginia driver’s license, and repealed our archaic voter ID law, among other reforms. And of course, just last week, the historic Virginia Voting Rights Act went into effect.
Unfortunately, voter disenfranchisement reminiscent of historical suppression is rampant in other Southern states, like Georgia and Texas. And it is unfortunate to see them regressing when they should be following in our footsteps. But it is not only Georgia and Texas. In fact, 47 states have introduced bills with restrictive voting provisions since the 2020 election.
Not only that but just this month the conservative Supreme Court has once again moved to gut voter protection provisions of the Voting Rights Act, siding with Arizona’s discriminatory legislation. And on the same day, they ruled in favor of Americans For Prosperity in California, in a decision that leaves the door open for dark money shadow groups to continue flooding our elections.
Clearly, we need strong action on voting rights at the federal level to send a message.
Virginia Senators Kaine and Warner have the unique opportunity to bring the leadership we’ve seen here at home to Washington by remaining at the head of the table as negotiations continue on campaign finance and election reforms, permanently rejecting any form of voter suppression here in Virginia and nationwide.
While Republicans temporarily stalled the For the People Act by filibustering this critical legislation last month, Democrats in the Senate — including core moderate members previously on the fence about the legislation — remained entirely united in the need to negotiate the strongest possible package of reforms. As discussions continue, we are confident that the most important provisions of the bill will remain intact, including the commonsense voting protections that we desperately need to combat the attacks we’ve seen on our democracy; provisions to end partisan gerrymandering; and others that will benefit our most vulnerable populations including minority communities, veterans, and seniors.
Importantly, the final package of reforms must also implement critical campaign finance and anti-corruption reforms, ensuring that our democracy is restored to a people-powered institution. Improving safe and reliable voting standards and restoring ethics and accountability within our government should not be controversial. And I know that Senator Kaine and Senator Warner are committed to these issues.
As the debate continues, Virginians look forward to seeing Senator Warner and Senator Kaine seize the chance to restore faith in American democracy for years to come, while at the same time pre-empting and undoing racist and undemocratic bills actively moving through state legislatures. With the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, it has been far too long since we have seen comprehensive legislation ensuring our most fundamental and sacred right as Americans. It is time for Senator Kaine and Senator Warner to act, and to work to pass the For the People Act.