In January, on the day of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, we launched our 100 Days of Democracy, a key tenet of the Democracy Agenda. The Agenda’s goals were ambitious, aiming to establish a foundation for the historic voting rights fight ahead:
The goal of the Agenda is to solicit, propose and amplify voting reforms that will allow the Biden-Harris Administration, Congress, state legislatures and progressive organizations to protect and expand the right to vote, ensure fair districting and restore democratic values.
Today is Day 100, so we’re taking a minute to look back at the successes, and failures, of the last three months. This year has already seen a historic amount of voter suppression legislation — but there have also been significant reforms and improvements to voting rights, and there is potentially history-making federal legislation on the horizon.
Here are some reasons to feel hopeful about the fight for voting rights in America:
1. State Democrats are expanding voting.
Democratic Governors and legislators across the country are hard at work expanding access to the ballot. We’re seeing significant improvements in states from Virginia to Washington from elected officials who care about protecting and strengthening the rights of their constituents.
The U.S. House has passed H.R. 51 for a second time. The historic legislation would make Washington, D.C. the 51st state and give over 700,000 Americans representation in Congress and the voting rights they’ve been denied for decades. The White House supports the legislation, as do the majority of Democrats in the Senate, where it will be considered next.
Governor Andy Beshear (D) made many of the state’s pandemic voting provisions permanent by signing the bipartisan law House Bill 574. The reforms include three new days of early voting, an online portal to request absentee ballots and new voting centers where residents of any precinct can cast their ballots.
Governor Phil Murphy (D) signed into law permanent early voting in New Jersey for the first time, becoming the 25th state to allow voters to vote in person before Election Day.
Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed the Virginia Voting Rights Act. Advanced by the Democratic legislature, the Act is the first of its kind in a Southern state, and restores key provisions of the federal VRA.
Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed a bill that restored voting rights for parolees immediately upon their release. When the law goes into effect in 2022, 20,000 Washingtonians will regain their right to vote.
2. Hope is on the horizon at the federal level.
With Democrats in power, the federal government is using its weight to expand voting rights. There are many promising pieces of legislation on the horizon, and despite uniform Republican opposition, Democrats are pushing ahead in their efforts to expand ballot access.
The For the People Act is a historic piece of voting rights legislation that, if passed, would be the largest voting expansion bill since the Voting Rights Act. The bill passed the House along a party line vote, and is currently in consideration in the Senate. Among the provisions of the legislation are the establishment of automatic voter registration, requiring independent redistricting commissions to tackle gerrymandering, the restriction of dark money donations, the expansion of absentee voting and much more. Passing the legislation largely depends on whether Democrats will choose to eliminate the filibuster, which mandates a 60-vote threshold for bills to pass the chamber.
While the For the People Act rightly gets a lot of attention, there are other vital pieces of legislation that Democrats in Congress are working to pass, too. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act after a conservative U.S. Supreme Court gutted this key enforcement mechanism that ensures states with histories of discriminating against minority voters are subject to federal oversight when passing new election laws. The Vote at Home Act would establish national no-excuse vote-by-mail, further fund the USPS and enact automatic voter registration. And D.C. statehood could finally become a reality with H.R. 51, which has passed the U.S. House and now heads to the Senate. The passage of any of these bills would dramatically expand access to the vote in this country.
In the White House
President Biden has thrown his support behind the For the People Act, and made some other important advances for voting rights since taking office. In March, he signed an Executive Order to strengthen voting rights, directing the federal government to study various ways to expand access to the ballot. The goals of this study include recommendations on making federal workers and resources available to help staff polling locations, as well as allowing federal agencies to share data with states that wish to establish automatic voter registration efforts. The President also ordered a commission of legal experts to study expanding the Supreme Court — a topic of much debate that could have serious implications for the future of voting rights. The commission is expected to wrap up its research this year.
3. Democrats are fighting back with lawsuits.
Finally, in states where Republicans manage to pass voter suppression laws, they are immediately subject to a host of lawsuits from voting rights advocates, voters and organizations who will fight for every last voter’s voice in court. We’re tracking cases against the omnibus election bills in Georgia and Iowa, and recently-filed complaints against two new election laws in Montana. As redistricting kicks off and Republicans attempt to rig the process in their favor, you can be sure there will be a legal fight to stop them. We’ll keep you up to date as these important cases make their way through the courts.
Here at Democracy Docket, we’re fighting back against every single voter suppression bill that Republicans propose across the country — even after the first 100 days. But we’re also celebrating the advancements made thanks to elected Democrats across the country, and pushing for significant federal action that could change the course of history for voting rights. To stay up to date with all voting rights news, good and bad, follow our Alerts page.
We’ll be keeping up the fight to ensure the next 100 days of the Democracy Agenda will see as many successes as the first!