At a press conference today on Capitol Hill, the new Freedom to Vote legislation act was introduced to reverse House Republican Conference sponsored H.R. 4563, the American Confidence in Elections Act (ACE Act). The bill was introduced to counter the ACE Act that would create more restrictive barriers for voting affecting voters of color and the poor while allowing for less transparency in campaign financing aka “donor privacy” among other “reforms.”
The proposed Freedom to Vote federal legislation is aimed at reversing the weakening of our democracy and in the silencing of our voices and is being supported by Democratic legislators, civil rights activists, climate justice leaders and those fighting for racial equity in seeing to its passage.
Speaking to the issue, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reminded everyone to “Remember this: that inside mobilization can only take this so far, but outside mobilization is what gets the job done. That’s why it’s such an honor to be with all the outside groups for us to have that outside mobilization in honoring the vision of our founders of what our country has become. When you are mobilizing that is the ultimate act of democracy to get people to vote. The right to vote is a sacred one. This is a very important moment in our country’s history. Our democracy is under assault by those who want money to be kept dark and special interest money. We can’t let that happen and that’s why John Lewis said that we must get out the vote.”
Following the speaker’s comments, Rep. Jennifer McClelland (D-VA) reflected on the history of voting in America where originally only white male landowners had been allowed to vote and that “Any study of American history shows that every time marginalized communities have gained social, political and economic power there has been a backlash that has included lies, propaganda and violence.”
She then related her own family’s history by saying that “My own family say this firsthand when my great grandfather had to take a literacy test and have three white men vouch for him to register to vote in 1901. My grandfather and father had to pay poll taxes to register to vote. It wasn’t until the federal government aggressively enforced the right to vote that the right to vote was expanded. And when the federal government retreated from enforcement, the right to vote was restricted not just in the South but across the country. That’s the cycle we find ourselves in now after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act a decade ago.”
She noted that Virginia ‘bucked the trend’ and as a member of the Virginia State Senate they passed a comprehensive voting rights act, the first state to do so in the South. That legislation took the state from the 2nd hardest state in which to vote to the 11th today. Now I’m ready to get to work here in congress!” In closing, she quoted the late Rep. John Lewis who said, “Democracy is not a state. It is an action that requires every generation to do its part.”
In a July Legislative Alert, the AFL CIO in part characterized the ACE Act by saying that “Contrary to its title, this legislation is an anti-voter bill that will fundamentally weaken our democracy. ACE Act proponents continue to rely on falsehoods about purported election fraud to justify the legislation’s anti-voter and anti-democratic provisions. The bill would nationalize numerous voter ID laws that are not only unnecessary, but will disproportionately affect Black, Latino, Indigenous, senior, and low-income voters. It would grant partisan poll watchers unrestricted access to the polls, opening the door for potential voter intimidation and harassment of local election administrators and poll workers. Even worse, partisan politicians would be granted the authority to dismiss non-partisan election officials based on frivolous accusations.”
A letter sent to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI) from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and signed by the broad coalition of their membership characterized the bill by saying that “Instead of promoting confidence and trust, the ACE Act’s leading national provisions undermine voter access and other democratic values, for example, by unnecessarily imposing nationwide voter ID for voters requesting mail ballots unless they do so in person, cutting off federal funds for states that permit community organizations and others to assist voters in returning their mail ballots, encouraging politicization of the census and much more.”
In closing, they challenged the bill’s sponsor Rep. Bryan Steil by saying, “Real confidence in elections comes from ensuring that all Americans have the freedom to vote unimpeded by discriminatory rules. The ACE Act would be a significant step backward from this goal. We urge you to instead focus on passing real pro-voter reforms to ensure that everyone can fully participate in our democracy.”
It is indeed a shameful undertaking that some legislators use a basic and fundamental right of all citizens as a political football to bend and attempt to craft their own personal and political desires and gains at the expense of the people they serve. Having to reestablish such a fundamental right over and over again in a democracy makes the very notion of voting rights a dubious illusion. It’s time we establish a strong federal voting rights act that allows for everyone to participate in our democracy equally.
(This article has previously appeared in Nuzeink.)
Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and Nuze.ink. He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.