Defending the Soul of our Democracy Part II

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We must redouble our multi-pronged efforts to investigate foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election and any subsequent actions undertaken by those in power to derail those investigations. 

At the same time, we also must do far more to assure full democratic participation by our countrymen and women here at home.

Elijah Cummings

Long before 2016, advocates for fair elections that engage all Americans on equal terms decried the weakening of our protections against voter suppression occasioned by a misguided Supreme Court majority in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision.

In the 114th Congress, for example, I was honored to join Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Democratic Congressman John Conyers, Jr., and more than 100 other legislators in co-sponsoring The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, legislation that would have repaired much (although not all) of the injury to our voting rights that the Shelby decision has allowed.

Our proposed legislation never received and up-or-down vote in the Republican-dominated House; and, as a result, Republican legislatures in many states made it far more difficult for untold numbers of voters to cast their ballots in 2016 (especially the elderly, the young and minorities).

Although President Trump, Attorney General Sessions, and the Republican congressional majority have all given their solemn oath to uphold the Constitution, they continue to deny the hard evidence that our constitutionally-mandated voting rights are being suppressed.

By their inaction – and their actions – they have become culpable in these attacks against our democratic system.

For example, despite my arguments to President Trump about the dangers of voter suppression during our March meeting at the White House, the mandate and make-up of his so-called “Voter Integrity Commission” fails the “smell test.”   Chaired by Vice President Pence, whose voting rights record in Indiana was less than encouraging, the Trump Commission seems more oriented toward justifying further voter suppression than to assuring that our voting rights will be protected.

Any on the Trump Commission who are serious about their duty to defend our democracy would be wise to study the highly respected Brennan Center’s heavily documented report, The Truth about Voter Fraud.  After evaluating the elections that had been studied for “voter fraud,” the Center concluded that Americans are “more likely to be struck by lightning than we are to impersonate another voter at the polls.”

In sharp contrast to the allegations of widespread voter impersonation, the evidence of voter suppression in Republican-dominated states is compelling – although the undemocratic methods vary.

State voter-id laws, unwarranted purging of the voter rolls, racially gerrymandered congressional districts, and consciously understaffed and underequipped voting precincts in minority areas are just some of the more obvious methods being utilized to thwart our constitutional right to free and fair elections.

Taken together, these voter suppression methods do constitute a fraud – but this “voter fraud” is being committed by reactionary state legislators against the American People and our constitutional right to choose those who will govern us.  It is not caused by any sizable number of people voting improperly.

These politically motivated efforts to “rig” our elections may already have had far-reaching, destabilizing and dangerous consequences.

Deprived of a President who takes his constitutional obligation to protect our voting rights seriously and opposed by an Attorney General who is in the process of gutting the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, optimism about the future of our democracy may seem unrealistic.

Nevertheless, I remain confident that our democratic system is stronger than any individual or political party.

Americans who are committed to defending our democracy will simply have to work harder – and we will continue to have substantial support for this most patriotic of causes in many of our federal courts.

Proof of intentional racial discrimination has resulted in victories for our voting rights in North Carolina and Texas voter suppression and congressional gerrymandering cases – and in the North Carolina litigation, even a majority of the Supreme Court has had to agree.

Nevertheless, my ultimate confidence in our ability to defend our democratic system rests in the American people – in our determination to do what we must to uphold our ability to choose who will govern.

When our neighbors are required to produce identification at their polling places, we will work together to help them get those IDs; where cynical politicians make voting more difficult on Election Day, we will bring a box lunch and wait our turn; and when the evidence shows racially-based attacks on our voting power, we will fight that suppression in our courts.

We are in a fight for the soul of our democracy – a fight that we are determined to win.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.