Civil Rights Groups Urge Senate to Delay Recess Until Voting Rights Legislation Is Passed

More than 200 civil rights groups are urging the Senate to pass voting rights legislation before they leave for recess—and before it’s too late to ensure safe, fair 2022 midterm elections. 

Between January 1 and September 27, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote. Over 200 civil rights organizations are urging the Senate to delay its holiday recess to pass federal voting rights legislation. (NAACP / Instagram)

Every 10 years, state legislators redraw maps of voting districts. This process, called gerrymandering, is often weaponized to manipulate district boundaries to favor one party or the other—and it’s having a dramatic effect on U.S. democracy. Unfairly drawn congressional districts shifted an average of 59 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections, according to May 2019 report from the Center for American Progress

The process of partisan gerrymandering is one of many concerns addressed by the Freedom to Vote Act—a bill introduced by Senate Democrats on Sept. 14 that includes many of the most important provisions from the For the People Act, which passed the House in March. Once enacted, in addition to ending partisan redistricting, the Freedom to Vote Act would set national standards to protect the right to vote, crack down on those who spread election misinformation and fix the U.S.’s corrupt campaign finance system.

On Oct. 20, the Freedom to Vote Act came up for its first-ever formal vote on the Senate floor, which failed—but fight for to pass this legislation is far from over.

In a letter to the Senate on Dec. 2, a collective of over 200 organizations urged senators not to go into holiday recess—currently scheduled for Dec. 13—until passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, both of which they say will “restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act to ensure that voters are protected from future attacks on their freedom to vote.” 

“Even after the horrifying January 6th attack on the citadel of American democracy to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power,” the letter reads, “there continue to be unparalleled efforts to sabotage our elections with fear, disinformation, and partisan practices intended to overturn the voices and votes of the American people, often targeting communities of color. These efforts have been further aided by the majority of the Supreme Court, which this year made two consequential decisions to further empower dark, untraceable money in our politics and further weaken the vital Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

The letter’s 200+ signatories include federal civil rights groups like the the Anti-Defamation League; the Brennan Center; Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms.; In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and others, as well as state and local organizations.

Many voting rights advocates fear passing this type of legislation after the recess might make it too late to protect next year’s midterm elections.  

“All of the experts and lawyers are telling us the same thing: Time is running out. We are not out of time yet, but we are running out of runway to get this bill passed, get it signed into law, be able to clear any legal challenges and actually get it implemented for 2022,” said Tiffany Muller, president and executive director of End Citizens United/Let America Vote, another letter signatory.

2021 Broke Records for Voting Restrictions

Voting rights are under attack in the U.S., and the past year in particular marks a crushing low: Between January 1 and September 27, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote, according to the Brennan Center—a statistic emphasized in the letter. These laws include opposition to automatic voter registration and mail-in ballots, and implementation of strict voter ID policies, all of which disproportionately affect people of color, women and people from low income communities.

“When the right to vote is threatened against citizens who are eligible to vote, we have not just a civil rights problem, we have not just a race problem … but we have a democracy problem,” said Sherrilynn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“It is disheartening, I can tell you, out of all the work we’ve put in to have fair elections, to get people engaged, and to have the Senate that will not act to protect the most sacred right, the right to vote,” said voting rights activist Helen Butler, “is unheard of.”

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Hannah Beck is a former editorial intern for Ms. and a rising senior at Smith College. She is majoring in the study of women and gender and Spanish. Her academic interests include transnational feminism, queer history and theory as well as reproductive justice.