By Julianne Malveaux
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Securing America’s Fair Elections (SAFE) Act in June by a nearly totally partisan vote of 225-184 in late June. Only one Republican voted for legislation that would mandate paper ballots, increase election security, and create safeguards to prevent foreign interference in our elections. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) opposes the legislation and won’t even allow it to be introduced or voted on in the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was eloquently angry when she raised a series of questions, “I just would really like to know from my Republican friends, what’s wrong with replacing outdated, vulnerable voting equipment? What is wrong with requiring paper ballot voting systems to ensure the integrity of our elections? What is wrong with enacting strong cybersecurity requirements for elections technology vendors and voting systems? We must be relentless in the defense of our democracy, fighting on all fronts to keep America safe.”
Republicans don’t seem to want to defend democracy, though. They simply want to win. And McConnell, who behaves like the 45th President’s handmaiden, has abandoned his duty as Senate leader in favor of partisan shenanigans. Former special counsel Robert Mueller III testified that Russian election interference was happening even as he testified, too many Republicans chose to ignore his warning because it does not serve them. McConnell is among those who seem to hope that Russian interference aids Republicans and perhaps ensures the reelection of the most odious human being ever to occupy the Oval Office.
Meanwhile, people are organizing and attempting to overcome interference by mobilizing the Democratic base of voters. Barbara Arnwine, who founded and leads the Transformative Justice Coalition (www.tjcoalition.org) gathered dozens of activists to participate in a day-long strategy session on voting rights on August 7, fifty-four years after the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Arnwine’s organization is among the many planning to ensure both voter turnout and election fairness in the upcoming elections. With so many focused on the 2020 election, and appropriately so, it is essential to note that 2019 elections are also significant. Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi will elect governors, New Jersey, and Virginia are among those who will elect state legislators, and some cities will elect mayors.
Activists can use these elections to test our broken system, and as practice, perhaps for 2020. But activists must also be clear that Republicans don’t seem to want fair elections. If they did, McConnell would schedule a vote on the SAFE Act, which provides dollars for better, safer, voting technology.
Both houses of Congress are on recess this August month, and won’t reconvene until after Labor Day. Most members of Congress will say that they aren’t taking a six-week vacation because they are also working in their districts. Citizens need to meet with them, organize town hall meetings, and get input from those recalcitrant Republicans (all of the Democrats voted for the SAFE Act) on why they eschew fair elections.
Some of them use a “state’s right” argument, suggesting that states can manage their own elections on their own terms. African Americans understand states’ rights all too well. States’ rights made it necessary for our nation to pass a Voting Rights Act, despite the guarantees included in the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. The question to ask is the questions Speaker Pelosi asked when the legislation came up for a vote on June 27. What’s wrong with election fairness?
It is indisputable that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections to aid the 45th President. It is undeniable that millions of voters have been purged from the polls since 2016 with Secretaries of State eager to influence elections, as they did in both Georgia and Florida in 2018. It is indisputable that while Florida voters attempted to restore votes to former felons, the legislature undermined that vote by requiring people to pay all fines and fees before they are allowed to vote.
If the Congressional vote on the SAFE Act is any indication, Republicans don’t want election fairness. They want to win by whatever means necessary. We’ve invaded foreign countries to “ensure democracy,” but our Congress does not have the decency to ensure democracy at home. Since the government won’t do its work, civil society organizations will have to. Kudos to Barbara Arnwine and the Transformative Justice Coalition for their work on voter fairness!