Where is the Biden administration in the struggle for voting rights protection?

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This writer is sick and tired of repeatedly having to say how much these days remind him of the period when Reconstruction was being under-minded and destroyed. Yet, it is important to keep sounding the alarm because eight years ago the national Republican Party concluded that the only way it could win national and state-wide elections was through the suppression of the vote of Black people and those who support the idea of America becoming more of a multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy.

After they reached that conclusion, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County vs. Holder, gutted the Voting Rights Act in such a manner as to open the floodgates for Republican state legislatures determined to depress the Black vote, not just in the South, but across the country. Based upon that ruling, in virtually every state where they are in control, Republicans have passed laws that will make it harder for Black people and those who support true democracy to vote. Beyond that, in several key states, like Georgia, Texas, and Arizona, they are trying to make it impossible for any candidates, except right-wing Republicans, to get in office, even if they receive a majority of the votes. These kinds of laws have now been passed or are being considered by a majority of the states.

Meanwhile, the surest way to block the implementation of these anti-democratic laws, the passage of federal legislation, is being blocked by the senate filibuster rule. In order to get around the filibuster rule, it is necessary to win over at least 10 Republican senators or change the stances of both Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

Democrats in the House of Representatives have passed the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Both of these bills, which could over-rule the voter suppression acts in the various states, have been languishing on the Senate calendar because Republican leader Mitch McConnell has expressed his opposition to them.

As it began to appear that these pieces of legislation were not going to become law, a group of nine senators, including Joe Manchin and Raphael Warnock, developed the Freedom to Vote Act. It is a trimmed-down version of the For the People Act, but even it may not overcome the Senate filibuster rule. In short, things look very dim for the protection of the voting rights of Black people in America.

As these things transpire, the obvious question is, “Where is Joe Biden?” His election depends squarely upon the votes of Black people in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Arizona, and elsewhere? What has he done? What can he do? What is he willing to do?

It’s true, Biden has spoken on the importance of the For the People and the John Lewis Voting Rights bills, including in his State of the Union Address. Since that time, he has met with leaders who are supportive of the bills as well as some who oppose them. The problem is that these actions have been far too little. They pale in comparison to Lyndon B. Johnson’s drum beat for the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act during his administration. One got the impression that LBJ really wanted those bills to pass, even though Black people in many states had been basically unable to support him in the run for vice president or president, which is in stark contrast to the electoral support of Black people for Biden.

Like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, LBJ knew when and how to use the “bully pulpit.” They all used it to promote their hard-felt priorities. By contrast, this causes many to wonder just where the protection of the voting rights of Black people stands on Biden’s list of priorities. Logically, it should rank number one, but it seems that his full effort has not been there.

There needs to be more special speeches/presentations pushing the federal legislation on voting rights. There ought to be a nationwide and continuous campaign.

In addition to the use of the bully pulpit, the president needs to huddle with other executives and come up with executive orders and policy initiatives that promote and protect voting rights. For an example, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice could and should offer grant money to educational institutions, to non-profit organizations, and to citizens who develop programs and mechanisms that advance democratic voting and that expose and oppose anti-democratic ideas and institutions. Such actions would be helpful to the idea of promoting and protecting voting rights, without the administration being legitimately charged with being politically partisan. The grants really would be patriotic efforts. Similarly, the Department of Justice could and should provide federal election monitors in states, such as Texas, which have authorized the presence of partisans to challenge/harass voters at the polls. Other ideas must surely come to mind as America faces the threat of losing the chances for a fully democratic state developing.

At the same time, the administration should continue to file lawsuits in states such as Georgia and Texas that may attempt to overthrow the will of the voters through recently passed voter suppression laws. It should engage in and broadly publicize these efforts. The president should be more forthright in opposing the Senate filibuster rule, which tends to block everything. It is dangerous and counterproductive to continue to pursue bipartisanship support on critical issues when it is clear the Republicans are only playing a game, waiting for the bills to die, leaving Black and progressive voters without voting rights protection.

The position which we represent herein is that the Biden administration needs to be much more vigorous in protecting the voting rights of Black and progressive-minded people. Otherwise, it may soon be too late. This administration needs to battle as if this is more than just a struggle between competing political ideologies or ways of life, as it turned out during Reconstruction. For Black people, in particular, it is the latest chapter in their struggle to be viewed and treated as full human beings in a society that has declared itself to be the last bastion for democracy. Black people demand to be on the side of the victors, not just a victimized people in a strange land once again.

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Where is the Biden administration in the struggle for voting rights protection?

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
September 30, 2021