U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

January 15, 2022

Voting Rights Legacy 

January 15, 2022

Dear Fellow Marylander:

Each January, we celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave voice to the civil rights movement and the struggle for equality for Black Americans. A federal holiday for more than two decades, this is not a time for barbecues and parties. We honor Dr. King’s work through service to others – helping the stranger and making our community a stronger, safer and more just place.

This work cannot – and should not – be confined to one day a year. To truly honor the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must work daily to right the wrongs of systemic racism and economic and health disparities, as well as hate and intolerance. In his 1963 letter from Birmingham, Dr. King wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

It is fitting that within days of Martin Luther King Jr. Day that the U.S. Senate will consider the “Freedom to Vote Act,” legislation to preserve and protect voting rights, protect against election sabotage, stop partisan gerrymandering and limit the influence of dark money in politics. It includes two bills that I authored, including the “Democracy Restoration Act,” which reverses laws many states passed after the end of the Civil War that unjustly disqualify a person from voting for a lifetime even after they have served out their prison sentence. Also included is the “Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act,” which would ban intentionally spreading false or misleading information about an election or intimidating the electorate. These tactics are used regularly to discourage individuals, particularly Black Americans and other racial minorities, from voting.

Calling the need for a nationwide standard to protect voting rights a priority would be a significant understatement. This is a matter of upholding our democracy. We must act to make sure everyone has the right to vote and their vote is counted accurately.

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Photo credit: The Atlantic (Bettman / Getty)

As President Joe Biden said from Atlanta this week, “the right to vote and to have that vote counted is democracy’s threshold liberty. Without it, nothing is possible, but with it, anything is possible.”

At the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson described ‘the vote’ as “the most powerful instrument ever devised by human beings for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison people because they are different from others.”

After record turnout in 2020, during a pandemic, far too many states across the country are taking steps that would make it harder for Black Americans, Latinos, seniors, people with disabilities, young people and others to vote. We can best honor Dr. King by reinforcing and expanding the right to vote instead of weakening and restricting this sacred right.

These actions are as un-American as you can get, yet they continue.

The Senate needs to act and put an end to such unjust and unconstitutional measures. If only Republicans of today would mind the words of former President Ronald Reagan, who said, “The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.”

Protecting the fundamental right of Americans to vote should not be a partisan issue.

As I have outlined in previous letters, this is a perilous time for our nation. Will we choose to maintain and strengthen our democracy, or will we allow authoritarianism to take root? You know that I am not an alarmist, but the threats to our country are very real and cannot be ignored or overlooked in the name of outdated procedural rules not based in the Constitution.

In memory of Martin Luther King Jr., and every man and woman who sacrificed on the unending path to make our nation a more perfect union, I will do everything in my power to preserve our democracy and make a more equitable and just nation.

At times of great despair and frustration, the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. serve as my guide in this mission: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I hope these words inspire you, as well.

Thank you for your time. Please stay well.

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Ben Cardin


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