Last week on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Democratic efforts to make it easier to vote a “power grab.” He took particular offense to the suggestion that Election Day should be a national holiday to allow more people to go to the polls.
If the United States can have holidays for dead presidents, why can’t Americans have a holiday so living voters can vote for president? But, of course, this isn’t about a holiday, it’s about who McConnell thinks should be able to vote. The irony of it all is that by suppressing the votes of people of color, politicians like McConnell are hurting the poor white folks they supposedly care about the most.
For decades, politicians have worked to make it harder for everyday people to vote because their power depends on fewer people voting, not more people voting. This isn’t about partisanship: it’s about systemic racism.
At a time when voter suppression against African Americans is at its highest point in over half a century, McConnell took to the Senate floor sounding a lot the segregationists who said ending Jim Crow would cost too much. His words echoed those of George Wallace, the Alabama governor, who, just two days after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, called the landmark legislation a “grab for executive power.”
McConnell’s Wallace impersonation comes at a time when many extremist politicians are doing their best imitation of the segregationists and Dixiecrats of the past—gutting voting rights across the country—despite the fact that Americans should be making it easier, not harder, for people to vote.
In 2019, there are fewer voting rights than when the Voting Rights Act passed more than 50 years ago. Since 2010, 23 states have passed racist gerrymandering and redistricting laws. They have also implemented racist voter suppression laws that make voter registration harder; reduce early voting days and hours, purge voter rolls, and establish restrictive voter ID laws.
What are the politicians pushing these policies so afraid of?
They fear the changing picture of our country. They fear the full enfranchisement of Americans. They fear the voices of poor black, brown, and indigenous Americans because those voices are calling for access to health care, fair wages, and an end to environmental devastation.
By targeting black people, these short-sighted lawmakers strip constitutional protections from all Americans. They allow extremists to get elected through voter suppression and racial gerrymandering and who then use their power to hurt people of all races. The people who gain power by voter suppression who then turn around and use that power to implement policies that in raw numbers hurt mostly white people. They block living wages, deny Medicaid expansion and roll out a welcome mat to polluters.
These efforts to restrict the right to vote mean that American democracy is under attack. Poor people, religious leaders, and voting rights activists in 40 states have joined together to demand a full voting rights overhaul. Addressing voting rights in America must go beyond the electoral reforms proposed in HR 1. The Voting Rights Act should be restored and expanded immediately. This means the restoration of preclearance–the process by which states with a history of voter suppression are required to receive federal approval before making changes to voting processes.
Americans must also demand an end to racist gerrymandering and redistricting and work to make voting easier. States should have adequate funding for election administration, so that there are enough polling places to accommodate everyone who wants to vote. The currently and formerly incarcerated should not be denied the right to vote.
All 50 states should make provisions for early voting and same-day registration; 17-year-olds should be able to pre-register and 18-year-olds should be registered automatically. Plus, statehood for the more than 700,000 people of Washington, D.C., is long overdue.
And, yes, the enactment of Election Day must be a national holiday. Senator McConnell may call that a power grab, but Americans call it democracy.