(RNS) – Millions of Texas voters headed to the polls earlier this month in the state’s primary election – but the democratic system they participated in is markedly different from the recent past.
After the Texas Statehouse enacted sweeping voting restrictions last year, the primaries served as the first chance to see just how damaging those laws would truly be. It’s too early to get the full picture, but early signs are worrying: About 30% of mail-in ballots were rejected by election officialsa massive increase from the 2020 general election where less than 1% of ballots met the same fate.
Unfortunately, that’s probably just a glimpse of what’s to come for millions of voters across the country. In 2021, at least 19 states have passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. This includes limiting mail-in voting, purging voter rolls and reducing voting hours on Election Day. More than 440 bills containing provisions restricting voting access were introduced in 49 states during the 2021 legislative sessions with more to come.
It is not only a question of who can or cannot vote in the elections. Combined with the toxic partisanship that divides our country – and the fact that much of our population and many elected leaders continue to doubt the outcome of the 2020 presidential election – an undeniable truth emerges: our democracy is in grave peril. .
As the first registered religious lobbying organization in the United States, we at the Friends Committee on National Legislation believe that the civic engagement of all is vital to the democratic life of our country. It starts with the fundamental right to vote. Quakers and other believers understand that voting is not just a basic civic right, but a moral requirement. At the center of our faith is the unwavering belief in and commitment to the equality and dignity of every human being. Safeguarding the integrity of the ballot-for-all process and removing, not raising, barriers to the full participation of disenfranchised people in our electoral process are essential to our democracy and our integrity as nation.
What happened in Texas and other states violates our democratic principles and our moral conscience. We know voters of color are most directly impacted by efforts to suppress their voices, both historically and today. These communities also lead the suffrage movement, often at great personal risk. This is just the latest chapter in a long fight against the disenfranchisement of black and brown communities in the United States. Our faith calls us to help root out racism and discrimination wherever it exists, including at the ballot box, and to help transform our nation into the beloved community we envision.
This call to protect elections as the foundation of democracy is not new. Earlier this year, in anticipation of Martin Luther King Day, advocates launched a large-scale effort to pass the John R. Lewis Free Suffrage Act. This bill would revitalize American democracy by making elections more accessible, safe, and transparent, and by ensuring that states do not pass discriminatory laws that restrict access to the ballot box. The effort failed due to a filibuster but was not abandoned.
Even as Congress rightly focuses on the crisis in Ukraine and the president’s economic agenda, the right to vote must remain a top priority for the nation. Currently, efforts to reform the Voter Count Act of 1887 are gaining momentum in Congress, with a bipartisan group of senators working to find common ground.
This alone will not end all voter suppression, but it could be an effective vehicle for further needed reforms, including amendments to prevent state legislatures from nullifying election results, making the day polling on a holiday, supporting small donor funding, instituting gerrymandering reforms or making absentee/voting-by-mail easier.
And despite the vote’s failure, senators should continue to push for the freedom to vote: John R. Lewis Act. History has taught us that advancing suffrage has never come quickly or easily – and raising our nation’s moral conscience on these issues is an important role of the faith community.
Quakers believe that our democracy can only live up to its potential if government protects the integrity of the voting process and ensures the full participation of all. Pushing for the right to vote is a moral imperative and requires the urgent passage of national suffrage legislation. Defenders and believers will not rest until concrete measures are taken. Neither does the Senate.
(Bridget Moix is the fifth Secretary General of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in its 80-year history. She brings with her more than 25 years of peacebuilding work. Moix also runs two other Quaker organizations: Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)