Let’s work to expand voting rights


Next week, a who’s who of voting rights foes will meet in New Hampshire for the second convening of what President Donald Trump calls his Election Integrity Commission.

After years of whipping up hysteria about mass illegal voting that simply doesn’t exist, far-right activists now have the official support of Trump and his administration to advance their voter suppression agenda.

Trump made allegations of voter fraud a hallmark of his campaign and claimed after the election that millions of illegal ballots decided the popular vote. His commission brings together a rogues gallery of proponents of false voter fraud claims.

The commission is led by Vice President Mike Pence and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. It also includes the Heritage Foundation’sHans von Spakovsky, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Justice Department lawyer J. Christian Adams.

But even as the voter suppression commission pushes its regressive agenda, Americans still have the power to pursue a different vision, one focused on increasing, rather than limiting, democratic participation.

For decades, one of the most important tools available to democracy advocates was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 2013, this landmark law became a shell of its former self, thanks to the Supreme Court’s devastating ruling in the Shelby County case.

But there’s hope — a bill in Congress called the Voting Rights Advancement Act would replace what the 1965 law lost and make critical updates. Our elected leaders should be debating and passing this legislation.

We must also keep pushing Congress and state and local legislators for a full slate of voting reforms that will expand access to the ballot box. This is already happening across the country.

Illinois and Rhode Island just took big steps forward with automatic voter registration. Maryland and Virginia have restored voting rights to some formerly incarcerated people; Florida might soon follow. Starting in 2018, Nevada will pre-register 17-year-olds and let them vote as soon as they turn 18.

We should seize every opportunity to emulate reformers like Colleen Fonseca, a recent college graduate hired by the sheriff’s department of Suffolk County, Mass., where she started a voter registration and absentee voting program for eligible pretrial detainees and those convicted of misdemeanors. Or Elder Lee Harris, a long-time pastor in Jacksonville, Fla., who worked throughout 2016 on voter trainings and get-out-the-vote outreach.

This is the kind of work that anyone focused on secure and accessible elections should be doing — not coming up with ways to make it harder for marginalized communities to vote.

Trump wants us to get lost in a message war while his voter suppression commission does real damage to fundamental rights in America. Don’t take the bait. As we hold them accountable, we should also hold fast to our own vision of moving democracy forward.

By Jen Herrick

Tribune News Service

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