Donna Brazile | USA Today | June 22, 2021
My parents and many other African Americans in Southern states could not cast ballots until President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
This is personal to me.
Senate Republicans have won an important battle in their disgraceful war on democracy, but it was a major defeat for the American people and our right to vote – a fundamental right long denied to millions of Black Americans, including my enslaved ancestors and my own grandparents and parents born in the South after slavery ended.
Coming just a week after congressional Republicans joined Democrats to designate Juneteenth as a federal holiday marking the end of slavery, the Republican opposition to even debating the For the People Act makes a mockery of their support for the new holiday. Making Juneteenth a holiday shines a long overdue spotlight on America’s immoral embrace of slavery and racism. But suppressing the votes of Black Americans and other Americans is a fresh assault on our rights.
It wasn’t until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law that my parents and many other African Americans in Southern states could finally cast ballots. The law was a major victory in the long struggle against racism that continues to this day.
A lifetime of getting out the vote
I become politically active four years later as a 9-year-old, helping to identify families in my neighborhood who hadn’t registered to vote. That launched my life’s work of encouraging Americans of every background participate in our democracy. I went from organizing voter registration drives as a college student to working on Democratic presidential campaigns, including serving as campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and later as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Why have I pursued this career path? Because I fervently believe the right to vote is sacred and the key to preserving all our other rights and freedoms.
The For the People Act is desperately needed to preserve voting rights – not just for Black Americans, but for all Americans. It is a response to Republican-controlled state legislatures that have come up with laws President Joe Biden has correctly labeled “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” to make voting harder for people who are likely to vote Democratic.
The Brennan Center for Justice reported that as of early June, a total of 24 state laws restricting access to voting have been enacted this year, with more such laws still under consideration. The For the People Act would block many provisions of these new state laws suppressing voting.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has led opposition to the voting rights bill as part of his stated policy to oppose just about anything President Biden supports. “One-hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” McConnell said in May.
Sen. Jeff Merkley:The For the People Act will protect democracy
In truth, Republicans are using the filibuster to block the For the People Act because they want to increase their chances of winning elections, following former President Donald Trump’s defeat last November and the loss of their Senate majority. While I understand that Republicans want to oppose Democrats, they should not be opposing democracy. Doing so is anti-American.
Unfortunately, millions of Republicans have bought into Trump’s false and absurd claim that he actually won the election, but was defeated because of election fraud orchestrated by a vast conspiracy of Republican as well as Democratic state and local election officials around the nation. The Supreme Court and other courts have thrown out more than 60 lawsuits attempting to advance Trump's bogus fraud allegations.
Risking collapse of US democracy
Fifty senators voted to start debating the For The People Act – all Democrats and not enough to break a filibuster, which requires 60 of 100 senators to proceed on a bill. If the only way to safeguard voting rights is to end the filibuster, then Democratic senators should end it or at least carve out an exception for voting rights legislation. They can do this in the 50-50 Senate if all 50 Democrats support the action and Vice President Kamala Harris breaks the tie.
But right now all 50 Democrats are not on board. To get that exception for voting, a small number of Democratic dissenters led by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia would have to abandon their defense of the filibuster and make it a higher priority to defend our precious democracy.
Only Congress can save voting rights: Democratic walkout blocks Texas voter bill – for now
This does not seem like a hard choice. Voting rights are the infrastructure of our democracy. Republican legislatures have already dangerously weakened that infrastructure with their voter suppression laws, making it essential that Congress approve urgent repairs to protect our right to vote. As Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Tuesday on the Senate floor, "This is not the end of the line for this bill. This is only the beginning … We can't let state legislatures pick and choose who gets to vote and whose votes are counted."
A collapsing bridge can kill dozens or even hundreds of people. Collapsing voting rights can kill our entire democracy and take away the right of Americans to pick our own leaders. The last thing we want is to have our free and fair elections replaced by sham elections like those in Russia, China, North Korea and other dictatorships. Yet if Republicans have their way, we could see this nightmare become a reality.
Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile), a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is an ABC News contributor, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute, and managed the Gore campaign in 2000