One thing we learned the past year is that Republican-held state legislatures, including Missouri’s, sought — and are still seeking — to suppress the vote by making it more difficult to register and to vote.
Amid all the hubbub of the 2020 election, the pandemic, the lies and conspiracy theories, the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the second impeachment of former president Donald Trump, Congress introduced HR1 — For the People Act of 2021.
For years, the extremists in the GOP believed if they could limit who could vote and gerrymander legislative districts that favored their candidates, then they would win more elections. They also knew that if more people were registered to vote, the U.S. would soon turn blue and lean Democratic.
In 2018, Missouri passed Amendment 1, the Clean Missouri Amendment. That amendment to our state constitution changed the method of redistricting to a nonpartisan demographer, limited lobbyists’ gifts to legislators, prevented legislators from becoming paid lobbyists for a period of two years and limited the donation amounts that could be given to legislators and political parties. The amendment passed with an overwhelming 62% of the vote.
But our GOP-dominated legislature did not like the idea that people were limiting their ability to gerrymander and that the change opened up the right to vote to all eligible Missouri residents. In 2020, they introduced their own amendment, which negated Clean Missouri. The Republicans somehow convinced 51% of the populous that the vast majority of voters were misinformed and that the 2018 amendment needed to be canceled.
Our Democratic congressmen and women saw what was happening in their home states. They saw the disenfranchisement of voters. They saw the limiting of polling places. They saw the challenges concerning mail-in ballots. They saw that this must change.
U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes, D-Maryland, saw this in his own district, with its meandering borders and cut-outs. In 2019, he introduced an extensive bill to expand “voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders.”
It passed the House, but like so many other Democratic bills during the Trump administration, majority leader Mitch McConnell did not bring it to the Senate floor for debate or vote, so it died.
Sarbanes reintroduced the bill in the 117th Congress. Since its 2021 reintroduction, HR 1 has languished in House committees.
The extremists of the Republican Party know full well that America’s lower-middle and lower-income citizens and people of color are primarily supporters of the modern Democratic Party. These citizens seek inclusion in the American dream, which the GOP will not deliver. The Black Lives Matter Movement is the current incarnation of the ongoing Voter Rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and this frightens the right wing of American politics.
March 20, 1854, is generally remembered as the date of the founding meeting of the Republican Party, which began as an anti-slavery and pro-voting rights political movement. In other words, the young Republican political party would be considered liberal, if not progressive, in today’s language.
It took the election of Franklyn Roosevelt in 1933 to have the two major parties dramatically switch poles. Today’s Republican Party is not the party of Lincoln.
Today’s GOP is using scare tactics to convince its cohorts that being liberal and progressive is unpatriotic, socialist, even communist. The GOP members believe that voting by mail is corrupt and filled with fraud. Too many believe that the 2020 election, and Biden’s win, was stolen.
Since the writing and adoption of the Constitution, voting rights has been a critical issue. It started with the voting rights of white men, landowners only, and then included men of color, and then women. It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its many amendments to extend that sacred privilege to all eligible American citizens.
But in 2013, the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder ruled that the rubrics stating that a state could not change its election laws or procedures without approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, the pre-clearance portions of the bill, were unconstitutional.
HR 1 would change the Civil Rights Act to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, extend the right to vote to all eligible Americans with or without a photo ID and allow for mail-in ballots, among other things.
Normally, I would ask you to write Rep. Vicky Hartzler to support HR 1, but that may be a foolhardy effort. Hartzler is a right-wing conservative who has supported voter restriction legislation and most likely will not support the For the People Act of 2021.
But write we must, for otherwise we would be denying our neighbors their right to vote.