By Neena Sapkota, age 12
Voting rights in the United States have come under attack since the 2020 presidential election. Eighteen states have already made voting more difficult by enacting 30 new voting laws. Many of these laws give legislators more control over how elections are run, and can make it easier for them to challenge the results.
In 2013, the Supreme Court destroyed the core of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in a 5-4 vote. This ruling freed nine states, most of which were in the South, to change their election laws without getting federal approval. In August, the House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which, if approved by the Senate, will restore the Voting Rights Act requirement that jurisdictions with a prior record of racial discrimination in voting receive preclearance from the Justice Department before they are allowed to change voting rules.
So far this year, eight states have enacted laws that make it harder for voters to deliver their mail-in ballots. In-person voting is being altered, as well. Three states have enacted laws which promote more vigorous ID requirements when voting in person, and three more have reduced the number of polling stations. In Georgia, restrictions have been put on the use of ballot-return drop boxes, and it is now illegal to give food or water to those waiting in lines to vote.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has branded these restrictive new laws as blatant voter suppression. This is a strategy where lawmakers influence the results of an election by passing new laws that make it harder to vote, often disproportionately affecting Black and Brown citizens. Hosting polls in less locations means people have to commute farther during the workweek, oftentimes outside public transport routes. Reducing polling hours means people who do not have flexible work hours may not be able to vote.
Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said in an exclusive interview with IndyKids that Republican state legislatures are trying to restrict voting rights as a “backlash against record-high turnout in [the 2020 election], including by voters of color.” Morales-Doyle explains, “People in power seem to be worried about more voters being engaged in our democracy and what that will mean for their ability to maintain their power.”
In response to these restrictive new laws, the Democratic Party has been attempting to pass the For the People Act, which represents one of the most extensive federal changes of the U.S. election system in one generation. Morales-Doyle says this bill could result in a “transformative change in our democracy.” The bill would allow voters to use mail-in ballots if requested, stop states from disenfranchising felons who have served their sentence, and automatically register people to vote, which would remove the extra step of people having to go register themselves. This could make people more inclined to vote, ultimately creating a more diverse voting population.
The act was passed by the House of Representatives in March of this year; however, it was blocked by Republicans in the Senate after a filibuster. “But we should not give up hope that it may still pass,” said Morales-Doyle. “Congress needs to pass the For the People Act,…and President Biden has an important role to play in advocating for them to do that.”
During a speech in Philadelphia, Biden expressed concern over the new voter suppression laws and warned that this is the “most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.” However, many civil rights organizations question whether his actions reflect his words.
Organizations such as the Brennan Center for Justice and the Poor People’s Campaign work to ensure that every American has an equal voice and is represented in elections. “If we want our government to serve everyone, we need to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in our democracy and have their voice heard,” Morales-Doyle explained.
Isabel Peterson and Sophia Theoharis Caruso, both age 11, and Indi Barnes, age 13, joined the Poor People’s Campaign to fight for voting rights. In a Teen Vogue op-ed, they wrote, “Right now we are too young to vote, but if this path of voter suppression continues, we fear there will be nothing left when we are of age.”
Disenfranchise: deprive someone of the right to vote
Filibuster: a tactic of parliamentary procedure where a person can delay or entirely prevent debate or votes on specific legislation