Our sacred right to vote is under grave threat
Washington, D.C., July 29, 2020
Originally published on NJ.com.
Because there is no question that your sacred right is under grave threat.
Almost daily, Donald Trump uses his pulpit to target election officials. He spews conspiracy theories that undermine our elections. And Trump’s false claims that millions of Americans vote illegally targets the legitimacy of our entire democracy.
Trump’s attacks are an extension of the cavalier shouts of “voter fraud” Republicans have been making for ages. Their assertions aren’t simply overplayed but made up whole cloth: voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in the United States.
(Ironically, perhaps the two most prominent cases of voter fraud in recent years were by a Republican running for Congress in North Carolina, and one of my current GOP colleagues from Kansas who was just indicted.)
Trump’s attacks on voting come at a precarious moment. This year, Americans in states including Georgia, Kentucky, Texas and Wisconsin have had to wait in line for hours to cast their ballots.
Tragically, those images of lines snaking for blocks are not been one-off aberrations, but ones we see year after year. That is because they are not an accident but a product of deliberate design.
Across America, local Republican officials routinely close polling stations in urban areas and communities of color. Their purpose is nefarious: to make the process so difficult that people just throw up their hands and don’t vote.
Republicans have found a partner in their war on voting in the five justicees who form the right-wing bloc of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Robert Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder gutting the Voting Rights Act remains perhaps the most damaging decision in generations. One of the greatest laws Congress has ever enacted, the Voting Rights Act ensured that Black Americans would finally enjoy the right to vote, fulfilling the promise of the Fifteenth Amendment a century after its ratification.
John Lewis would say many times that the Voting Rights Act was maybe the proudest achievement of the civil rights movement of which he was an integral part.
By preposterously asserting that racial discrimination is a relic of the past, the Supreme Court gave the greenlight to scores of voter restrictions.
Indeed, just this month, the justices blocked a landmark ballot initiative in Florida restoring voting rights to released felons that has been held up by a poll tax passed by the Florida legislature.
This matters as the COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented challenges for voting. In our state, we just held our first-ever primary conducted almost entirely by mail.
For an endeavor involving millions of voters put together on the fly, the results have been mostly positive and voters engaged. In my hometown of Paterson the state Attorney General has uncovered evidence of fraud attempts in a municipal election that I don’t dismiss, but it is my firm belief that this is an isolated incident and is not reflective of the safety or reliability of mail-in voting.
So there are obviously kinks to be fixed, especially if we are forced to do all-mail voting in November. The same applies for the other 49 states facing similar decisions.
This is why Trump’s attacks on the United States Postal Service are so dangerous. Trump has made a poisonous target of voting by mail, claiming repeatedly (without evidence) that it is ripe for ballot fraud.
Worse yet, while the U.S. Postal Service has worked bravely during the pandemic, Trump has rejected any support for the public service even as managers say without help the postal service may shutter in September. Trump is even openly sabotaging the postal service, forcing out career leaders from its leadership and installing political hacks. In an incredible scandal just revealed, Trump’s handpicked new postal service head is ordering employees to deliberately delay deliveries.
The electoral implications for the destruction of the postal service are momentous. If it is forced to curtail its service, our ability to hold a national election could be obliterated.
If there is a silver lining to this crisis, the solutions to protect voting are straightforward and Congress has acted on them. First, in May, the House passed a $25 billion lifeline to keep the post office alive (as well as $3 billion to states to strengthen mail voting infrastructure).
The New Jersey delegation has been especially engaged in working with the postal service. In June, I led a call between our membership and postal officials to make sure the agency has the tools it needs to conduct expanded vote-by-mail in New Jersey.
Similarly, in February the House overwhelmingly passed legislation to free the postal service from the prefunding of employee health care plans that has financially savaged the post office.
Second, we have focused on saving the Voting Rights Act. Now 235 days ago, the House passed H.R. 4 to restore the Voting Rights Act and to undo the court’s decision in Shelby County.
Back in 2006, the Voting Rights Act was renewed by massive margins. Its passage this year with virtually no Republican support speaks to the GOP’s tragic growing hostility to democracy. Nonetheless, our reauthorization of the legislation is one of the most important actions Congress has taken this session.
These bills would go a long way to protecting our elections and your right to vote.
Trump and Mitch McConnell are blocking all of them.
While I am not fully optimistic that we can clear these measures in this current Congress, we won’t stop pushing until all of them become law.
In New Jersey, county clerks and Boards of Election must have mail ballots printed and ready and begin finetuning their capability to count expeditiously on Election Day. And the state must undertake a massive promotion effort to build public awareness of vote-by-mail. We need an early start now.
But even if Trump is defeated in November and replaced in January, he has exposed the tenuous weakness of our pillar institutions.
If Americans lose faith in the legitimacy and fairness of our elections, democracy itself will be unsustainable. Protecting democracy must be one of our absolute top priorities in 2021.
We could enact no better monument to John Lewis’s life than that.
Rep. Pascrell is an unshakable supporter of protecting voting rights and is a cosponsor of H.R. 4, landmark legislation to reauthorize and reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act to its full strength. It has been 235 days since this bill was passed by the House and the McConnell Senate refuses to enact it.