By Congressman Kweisi Mfume
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden uttered five words about the voting rights bills stalled by Republicans in the U.S. Senate: “I’m tired of being quiet.”
Mr. President, you should be. The time to pass voting rights legislation is now!
Naturally, the transition into a new calendar year brings about reflections on where we’ve been, who we are, and where we are going. As a country, I believe we have made great strides towards realizing the promises contained in the U.S. Constitution and the nation’s other founding documents. In recent days, however, one issue has taken centerstage and has been the subject of bitter partisan divide – an issue core to our Democracy. This issue is the right to vote.
I call upon my colleagues in the U.S. Senate, at the start of this new year, to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Our nation has one major safeguard on its elected officials and all its institutions: their power is derived from the people. All Americans, no matter the race, ethnicity, or gender, have the power to be involved in the establishment and decision-making of government through the right to vote.
As we have seen throughout our nation’s 245-year-old history, achieving equal power and equal rights for all Americans has been a tireless battle. However, it has been a battle riddled with stories of courage from those Americans willing to stand up and fight for what is right, including the right to vote.
Through the racist Supreme Court rulings in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the “separate but equal” doctrine was born in America. And with this overtly racist ideology – an unquestionable stain on our country’s history – the notorious Jim Crow laws were formed. The racial segregation allowed under these laws resulted in the disenfranchisement of African Americans by a blend of poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses.
It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, that our country was rerouted back onto a path towards fairness. That law leveled the playing field and empowered African Americans at the ballot box – and therefore in most every other aspect of American life.
As we begin celebrating the 92nd birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is essential that our nation recommit itself to an unfettered right to vote. Hence, the U.S. Senate must act now!
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was weakened by recent Supreme Court decisions, while state legislatures retain nearly unchecked control over how elections are conducted within their state lines. For example, in 2021, an estimated nineteen states passed laws to make voting more restrictive in their states.
We did our part in the U.S. House of Representatives and I urge my colleagues in the U.S. Senate to do the same. Maryland’s U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen are on our side on this issue and are leading the fight in the U.S. Senate to get these freedom to vote laws passed to correct the problem once and for all.
Our country’s history – where we have been – has already been written.
Where we are going in this fight for our future and the integrity of what the United States of America truly stands for begins now with the passage of voting rights legislation. Let’s get it done.
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