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Christopher Dale of Little Falls, New Jersey, writes on society, politics and sobriety-based issues. This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.
It’s time to start panicking about the possibility of losing democracy in the United States.
A host of bills are being passed in electoral battleground states, many of which are controlled by GOP-majority legislatures and governors. They seek either to keep liberal-leaning constituencies from voting or, more nefariously, to let election officials overturn accurate results.
In Texas, a new law, according to The Texas Tribune, “specifically targets voting initiatives used by diverse, Democratic Harris County, the state’s most populous, by banning overnight early voting hours and drive-thru voting — both of which proved popular among voters of color last year.” And Republican legislators in Ohio have introduced a bill that would shorten early voting, ban returning ballots via drop boxes, and limit acceptable forms of voter ID.
Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger — who, following the 2020 election, repeatedly refused Donald Trump’s call to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory — is facing a Trump-endorsed primary challenger who’d be far more amenable to doing so. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is also facing a primary challenge, from Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue, for similar reasons.
In short, Republicans across the country are working to ensure that the next time a would-be autocrat like Donald Trump tries to snatch victory from electoral defeat, he succeeds.
All of this is well documented. Recent weeks have seen a surge in coverage of Republican-led efforts to further undermine democracy. An extensively reported piece by Barton Gellman in The Atlantic has perhaps the most jarring headline: “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun.” Another ominous column, “18 Steps to a Democratic Breakdown,” ran in the Dec. 10 issue of The Washington Post.
Democracy is unraveling before our eyes, and time is running out to do anything about it. To protect democracy against these predations, we first need to pass a new federal Voting Rights Act. There is simply no time to individually fight, through courts or ballot boxes, all of the state and local laws that are loosening our already-faltering grasp on majority rule.
We’ve been on this slippery slope for some time. In 2013, a Supreme Court ruling effectively retired the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which mandated that states with a history of discrimination against minority voters have electoral changes approved by the federal government.
Now, as Old South states like Georgia are moving toward a system that would let election officials steal elections by disenfranchising voters and threatening to delegitimize results, we’re seeing how wrong that ruling was. And these latest state measures, however incremental, are edging the United States toward an autocratic abyss.
It’s time to stop playing games. We need to pass a federal voting rights law that supersedes the state and local laws further shredding our already-frayed democracy.
There is still hope. On Dec. 13, the Democratic governors of 17 states signed a letter urging the U.S. Senate to act on voting rights, including codification of a law the House passed in August, named for the late John Lewis, to restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A few days later, President Joe Biden followed suit, rightly accusing the GOP of an “unrelenting assault” on voting.
This must get done, whatever it takes. Likely, it will mean sidestepping the filibuster, as happened with the recent measure to increase the debt ceiling. Obstinate Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema must get on board or watch as U.S. democracy is dealt a potentially fatal blow.
The clock is ticking.