Since the 2020 election, we’ve seen the most widespread attack on the right to vote since the days of Jim Crow. In state houses across the country, voting rights are being attacked under the guise of election security in a broader effort to support Trump’s Big Lie. Much of the media coverage of these efforts has focused on the most egregious provisions, like making it illegal to give voters a bottle of water while they’re in line, but the less overt provisions that restrict access to the ballot box will have a profound impact on our democracy and require a federal response.
Before I was elected to Congress, I was a voting rights attorney and helped lead the voter protection efforts in Texas in 2014. Through this work, I came to view voting as a hydraulic system: The more you restrict early voting and vote by mail options, the more pressure you put on Election Day. That’s why we’ve seen voters here in Texas and in states like Georgia spend multiple hours in line waiting to cast their ballots. But not everyone has the ability to wait in line for five or six hours — and Republican legislators know this.
They know that if they put pressure on Election Day, creating longer lines and limiting opportunities for folks to vote, Black, Brown and young voters will be disproportionately impacted and will have a harder time voting. It’s no mistake that restricting early voting and voting by mail have been commonplace in the voter suppression legislation moving through state houses in 48 of our 50 states.
This is all new in our modern era, but it isn’t really new in the history of our nation. After the Civil War and the ratification of the 14th and 15th amendments, the South used the Black Codes, violence and selective use of the Senate filibuster to prevent African Americans from voting for a century until the federal government intervened.
Because brave Americans marched, rode buses, sat at lunch counters and refused to be deterred, Congress passed, and a great Texan, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But there was more to be done so that every American could have their voice heard in our democracy. After sustained public pressure, the next year the Voting Rights Act became law and set critical standards that stopped southern states from interfering with minority voters trying to cast their ballots.
Sustained public pressure is what we will need once again to restore these protections and make our democracy more accessible for every eligible American.
Today, we find ourselves at an inflection point once more. We are faced with a very clear choice: The federal government can once again intervene and set national standards to protect our democracy or we can enter a new era of anti-democratic darkness.
As we saw last month in the Brnovich ruling, we cannot count on the courts to defend the right to vote. It will be legislation, not litigation, that ensures our democracy is strong and that our federal elections in 2022 and beyond are free and fair. We don’t have time to waste because while so many of these sham audits and other attempts to overturn the will of the people are currently focused on the last election, it is only a matter of time until they begin to focus on the next one. Here in Texas, we already saw behind closed doors efforts to add language to Senate Bill 7 that would give judges more power to overturn election results. With redistricting beginning this fall, partisan politicians have the opportunity to put the fix in for the next decade, deciding elections before any American enters a voting booth.
We must pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act, to affirmatively expand access to voting and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect against attacks on voting rights. There is nothing more important than our democracy. Everything should be on the table, including reforming the filibuster so we can pass these needed reforms into law urgently.
I believe in our democracy and what we stand for as a nation. I believe we are fundamentally good people. And I will never give up on us or stop working to protect our democracy and make voting easier and more accessible for all eligible Americans.
But it will take more than one representative’s voice. We need the people. So, let’s get to work and save our democracy.
Colin Allred is a Congressman from Dallas, representing Texas’ 32nd Congressional District and a former voting rights litigator.