Our freedom to vote is a basic human right. Regardless of our color, income, or zip code, we have the right to take part in our government and choose leaders who will make decisions that shape our future. To make the promise of democracy real for us all, we should ensure every American’s vote counts by guaranteeing our freedom to vote in law.
Yet last year, state legislatures enacted a slew of laws that aimed at silencing certain groups of Americans by preventing them from voting.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 19 states last year passed 34 laws restricting the freedom to vote by placing barriers between you and the ballot box.
These laws prevent or discourage people from voting through different means. They, for example:
- Reduce the number of polling places
- Shorten early voting time periods
- Make voting by mail more difficult
- Criminalize passing out water to voters waiting in line
- Create criminal penalties for people who assist voters at polls, which will negatively affect the elderly, those with disabilities, and those with limited English proficiency.
- Create criminal penalties for those returning ballots on behalf of voters who may need assistance
- Ban drive-thru voting
- Make it harder for election workers to stop harassment by poll watchers
More anti-voter bills are being introduced in 2022
Efforts to sabotage elections are a real threat to our freedom to vote today. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, several anti-voter bills have been pre-filed in state legislatures even before the legislative session begins. These bills in states like South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Missouri would:
- Shorten the time period in which a mail ballot may be requested
- Eliminate COVID-19 as an excuse for voting by mail
- Expand the grounds on which an absentee ballot can be rejected
- Impose a stricter voter ID requirement for in-person and mail ballots
Pre-filed bills in 5 states – Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Tennessee – seek to initiate or allow election review scams of 2020 election results and/or future elections by partisan actors who are not part of the election process.
There are also at least 152 previously introduced anti-voter bills that will be considered in 2022.
The majority of the bills – 57 – seek to:
- Shorten the window for applying for a mail-in ballot (Pennsylvania)
- Shorten the deadline for delivering mail ballots (Kansas)
- Prohibit sending out mail ballot applications to all voters (Michigan)
- Restrict voters’ ability to receive assistance with returning a mail ballot (Ohio)
- Expand opportunities for voter purges (Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania)
23 bills seek to require or expand voter identification for in-person or mail voting. Study after study has shown voter identification requirements have suppressed voter turnout. Turnout is more dramatically lowered among people of color, the elderly, and people with disabilities who are more likely not to have a government-issued ID, as they often don’t have the money or the means to obtain a government ID. More than 21 million Americans fall into this category, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Federal workers are being harmed by these anti-voter laws
Voting rights restrictions have a direct impact on federal workers because public sector voting turnout is 2-3% higher than private sector union households. Voters who support a strong federal government and its missions are also more likely to show that support when they cast a ballot.
AFGE is opposed to attempts by partisan actors to sabotage our elections. It’s horrifying to think that a bill introduced in Arizona last year would have allowed state legislatures to reject results of the election. A bill introduced in Texas would have allowed a partisan elected judge to do so. As more countries are sliding toward authoritarianism, it is our job to protect our freedom to vote and ensure that we the people choose our political leaders, not the other way around.
The good news is, we can restore the right to vote and prevent future attempts to sabotage our freedom to vote.
There are two important bills that have already passed the House and need to pass the Senate: the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. But Republican members of Congress are trying to block even the debate of the bills.
The Senate must exercise its majority and pass these bills:
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the full protections of the original, bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. The 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed to ensure state and local governments cannot pass laws that prevent Americans to vote based on race. But the 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, struck an important provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, allowing states to implement voting restrictions that disproportionally affect communities of color such as onerous identification requirements, purged voter rolls, elimination of same day voting registration, and limitations of early voting.
The Freedom to Vote Act would roll back the anti-voter laws recently passed by states. It would create national standards for early voting, mail voting, and voter validation. It would make Election Day a holiday, require states to help those with disabilities, prohibit the dissemination of misleading information to deter voters from casting a ballot, establish criminal penalties for deceiving voters, and increase penalties for altering ballots and election records. It would require states to allow voters to register to vote online and offer same day voter registration so people can register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day.
“Allowing new voting restrictions by states trying to limit legitimate voters from exercising their rights affect federal employees,” said AFGE in a letter calling on the Senate to pass the two bills. “Federal workers report for duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They count on utilizing voting options to exercise their patriotic right to vote.”
We need to pass these two bills to protect our freedom to vote and to ensure that every vote counts.