USA TODAY US Edition

Don’t let states cut voting rights

Restrictio­ns resemble Jim Crow laws

- Marissa McBride and Tom Lopach Marissa McBride is board chair of the nonprofit, nonpartisa­n Voter Participat­ion Center and Center for Voter Informatio­n. Tom Lopach is president and CEO of the two organizati­ons.

Anew bill in the Arizona State Legislatur­e would require voters using mail-in ballots to have them notarized. “The early voter shall make and sign the affidavit in front of a notary public,” House Bill 2369 states. This is just one absurd example of the more than 250 bills in 43 states that would restrict voting access across the nation, part of an organized effort to shape the electorate to meet the needs of one party over another.

Even as the pandemic turned our usual voting procedures upside down, there was hope. Voter turnout shattered records in 2020 and in January’s Georgia Senate runoffs. While many people, particular­ly Black voters, were once again forced to wait in long lines to cast their ballots, this unpreceden­ted election cycle proved that voting by mail is safe, convenient and secure, that early voting periods work, and that ballot drop-off boxes are effective.

Now, however, it’s time to speak out against lawmakers who are peddling disinforma­tion and introducin­g antivoting legislatio­n aimed at undoing this progress. If successful, these efforts will result in an unrepresen­tative electorate, muting the voices of many Americans who are already bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

This is not hyperbole. There are now more than four times as many bills to restrict voting access in states as compared with this time last year. In Georgia, lawmakers are working to forbid government­s and independen­t organizati­ons like ours from mailing absentee ballot applicatio­ns.

Silencing Black voters

To be clear, independen­t organizati­ons have played an important part in voter registrati­on and turnout history since before the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Georgia lawmakers are also trying to restrict absentee and inperson early voting in a bill that would target Democratic stronghold­s with large minority communitie­s.

Further, Florida legislator­s are considerin­g changes to mail-in voting that would make it harder, despite a smooth operation in 2020. In New Hampshire, some bills would remove college addresses as acceptable voter registrati­on data. And in Pennsylvan­ia, a proposal would restrict access to ballot drop boxes. The list goes on. These efforts — in many cases meant to silence the voices of Black voters — are echoes of the worst voting abuses of the civil rights era.

To state the obvious, voting should not be a partisan or race-based issue. Voting should be easy and accessible to all, and it shouldn’t have taken a deadly pandemic to increase access to the ballot box. We should make permanent the positive changes that election officials put in place last year. Universal access to absentee voting should be the norm, not the exception. States like Utah and Washington have seen high turnout rates because of mail-in voting, without a partisan impact. Expanding access to voter registrati­on and voting by mail is the only way we can ensure that voters elect leaders based on principles, not party.

Unfortunat­ely, some state legislator­s seem motivated to disrupt certain groups’ access to the ballot box. These legislator­s and state leaders who are working to restrict access to the polls will impact largely Black and brown communitie­s, out of fear that they are more likely to support Democrats.

For the People Act

This is not new, but some are doubling down in 2021. And they received fresh encouragem­ent Sunday from former President Donald Trump, who called for an end to early voting and noexcuse absentee voting at the Conservati­ve Political Action Conference.

Congress is considerin­g the For the People Act, a comprehens­ive voting rights package, as a long overdue first step to strengthen our democracy. If signed into law, voters across the country will find themselves on an equal playing field. Candidates can focus on attracting voters based on their ideas, instead of ostracizin­g those who historical­ly vote for the other side. The act will codify the simple solutions that contribute­d to higher turnout in 2020. This is critical to bringing more people into the democratic process.

Our democracy cannot afford to bend any further than it did on Jan. 6. If we aren’t careful, ongoing partisan vitriol will lead to our demise. We can no longer accept partisan efforts to empower only certain people to participat­e in voting. We cannot stand idly by as some work to pass laws that will disenfranc­hise American voters — laws that bear a scary resemblanc­e to the racist Jim Crow laws of the past. Elections should be decided based on ideas, not on who was cut out of the process.

 ?? MICHAEL HOLAHAN/AP ?? Line for early presidenti­al voting in Augusta, Georgia, on Oct. 12. A Georgia bill would restrict absentee and in-person early voting.
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/AP Line for early presidenti­al voting in Augusta, Georgia, on Oct. 12. A Georgia bill would restrict absentee and in-person early voting.

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