U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

August 21, 2021

Voting Rights Under Attack 

August 21, 2021

Dear Fellow Marylanders:

Easily missed in the recent flood of news about the COVID-19 Delta variant, Afghanistan, the earthquake in Haiti, and nearly $1 trillion infrastructure agreement passed by the Senate earlier this month, is the ongoing assault on our constitutional rights by those attempting to discourage fellow Americans from voting.

Those doing the most damage hope we are distracted, while they try to squeeze the electorate and restrict the right to vote for large swaths of individuals who don’t vote the way they want.

Intimidation and fear tactics continue to rear their ugly heads from state legislatures to city streets. For those who believed that the failed insurrection of January 6th was the last assault on the will of the people, think again.

In today’s America, we are witnessing the most sweeping and coordinated attacks on voting rights since Jim Crow.

Reactionary Republican-led legislatures across the nation are trying to make it harder for poorer, younger, elderly, disabled, and nonwhite Americans to vote. At the same time, they are making it easier for partisan actors to truly steal elections.

Don’t take my word for it. Take those of the leader of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, Kristen Clarke. Testifying before a House Judiciary subcommittee this week, Clarke told Congress, “Voting rights are under pressure to an extent that has not been seen since the Civil Rights era.”

Clarke detailed how in the years since a poorly reasoned 2013 Supreme Court decision eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. has “seen an upsurge in changes to voting laws that make it more difficult for minority citizens to vote.” She continued, “And that is even before we confront a round of decennial redistricting where jurisdictions may draw new maps that have the purpose of effect of diluting or retrogressing minority voting strength.”

“There are many things that are open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in June. “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.”

This month Attorney General Garland called directly on Congress to protect this democratic cornerstone. “Our society is shaped not only by the rights it declares but also by its willingness to protect and enforce those rights. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of voting rights.”

“On this anniversary of the Voting Rights Act,” Garland continued, “we must say again that it is not right to erect barriers that make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote. And it is time for Congress to act again to protect that fundamental right.”

I could not agree more. It is long past time for decisive action. After passage of bipartisan infrastructure legislation and a budget resolution, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), once again, asked unanimous consent on For the People Act of 2021, along with the Redistricting Reform Act of 2021, and the DISCLOSE Act of 2021. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) objected to all three, blocking Senate debate on voting rights, partisan gerrymandering, and transparency in campaign donations.

Protecting a basic tenet of democracy should be an area where senators find bipartisan agreement.  Too many elected officials continue to put their own self-interests (i.e. personal elections) ahead of the good of the nation.

Congressional Democrats will not be deterred from our push for progress. In the House, leaders expect to pass a bill introduced this week, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, aimed at restoring the full force of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. . I have been an original cosponsor of this legislation historically and look forward to supporting a Senate version this Congress as well.

Despite efforts to block movement in the Senate, Majority Leader Schumer pledged that voting rights legislation would be the first order of business when the Senate returns from our August break.

I concur completely and think we need to keep voting and voting until it passes. This is not an issue that should be tucked away. The For the People Act, S.1, provides a comprehensive set of reforms to protect the right to vote, end the corruption of big money in politics, eliminate gerrymandering and fortify ethics laws.   

I am proud that my Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act is included as a provision of this bill. The spreading of false or misleading information intended to suppress voting and intimidate the electorate remains one of the most effective methods used to keep individuals, particularly Black Americans and other racial minorities, from voting. We’ve seen it in Maryland and it has happened across the country election after election.

I am also proud of the inclusion of my Democracy Restoration Act to restore federal voting rights to previously incarcerated individuals. The right to vote is not a privilege to be earned or bestowed, but a fundamental right of citizenship. Under our Constitution, there is no legitimate justification for denying people from having a voice in our democracy. Disenfranchising citizens who are living and working in the community serves no compelling interest and hinders their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. In 2020, more than 5 million individuals, and as many as 1 in 5 African Americans in some states, were disenfranchised by these laws. 

This legislation will not solve every problem facing our electoral system, but we need to do as much as possible to protect the integrity of our system. As the growing “ghost candidate” scandal in Florida illustrates, some unprincipled individuals will go to any lengths to gain an advantage in electoral politics. And lest we believe, again mistakenly, that ensuring fair and equitable voting rights will eliminate the hatred, racism and fear that drive some to attempt to disenfranchise others, I must inform you otherwise. This week, as I saw a supporter of the so-called “Proud Boys” found guilty of threatening the life of Senator Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) with the chilling phrase “Dead men can’t pass laws,” I was reminded that some will never understand the equality of all Americans by law or logic.

All of this only strengthens the need for strong voter rights protections and reform. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is off-the-mark when he says that Democrats are “seeking to start tearing up the ground rules of our democracy and writing new ones.”

In truth, Democrats are trying to ensure that the guarantees of our Constitution are extended appropriately and equitably to all who merit the freedoms it guarantees.

For far too many Americans, those promises remain unfulfilled. The time is now to right that wrong.

Thank you for joining me in the effort.

Stay safe. And please get vaccinated if you have not already done so.

Sincerely,



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Ben Cardin

 

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