In a new op-ed posted today on cnn.com, 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia Stacey Abrams, who is also the founder of nonprofit organizations Fair Fight Action and Fair Count, calls on the 10 Democratic presidential candidates who will be debating tonight in Atlanta and other political leaders to support a democracy agenda that gives Americans a real voice in their government. That article follows:
On Wednesday, the presidential candidates will gather for their next debate in Georgia, the location of one of the most egregious and successful voter suppression efforts in recent history. For those who value our nation’s commitment to democracy, the issue of voter suppression is directly linked to whether the voice of the people is heard.
The Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder led to a surge in voter suppression measures in Georgia and other previously covered jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voter suppression, as well as states facing demographic changes that threaten incumbents’ political power. This weakening of federal law has had its desired effect on our nation’s electoral process. The obstacles to voting now come in a dizzying array of constraints: voter roll purges in Ohio and Georgia, polling place closures in Arizona and North Carolina, newly erected barriers for college students in Texas and New Hampshire, signature mismatch laws to disqualify ballots in Michigan and Florida and unduly restrictive voter ID laws in Iowa and Wisconsin.
When powerful forces pick their voters through intimidation and restriction, using bureaucracy to thwart participation, government fails to respond to the needs of its people. In a democracy, when leaders fail to listen to the people they represent, the system is broken. However, voter suppression is simply one tool in a broad agenda designed to reshape all three branches of government to benefit a shrinking minority. Such behavior is not new in politics, but with the upcoming elections, voters must be aware of the threat facing our national identity.
Power in our current democracy is determined not by popular will but by arcane and undemocratic rules. Our Congressional districts are manipulated by partisan gerrymandering. The Senate structure is so unrepresentative that the nearly 580,000 people of Wyoming are allocated an identical number of senators as the nearly 40 million residents of California. The Electoral College has usurped the will of the American people twice — the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections — in the last five elections. Broadly popular legislation passed by one legislative body is dead on arrival in the other chamber, blocking progress not by the people’s choice but by an algorithm of absurdity. Meanwhile, the unprecedented theft of a Supreme Court seat in 2017 has left us with a highly politicized, illegitimate and ideologically extreme Supreme Court.
Voters wonder aloud at the security of election machines judged untrustworthy by cyber-experts. Worse, the President of the United States blithely encourages foreign interference in our elections, marking the erosion of accountability and corruption at the highest levels of office. A paralyzed Congress has failed to pass even the most rudimentary of solutions — leaving citizens with little to pin their hopes on in the next election.
However, despite the broken machinery, Americans are aligned on a key set of issues stuck in legislative gridlock. Eighty-nine % of Americans support expanded background checks for gun purchases, according to an NBC-Wall Street Journal survey. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 81% want a clear path to US citizenship for immigrants. Seventy-five % believe Roe v. Wade should remain the law of the land, according to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. And 66% of Americans, according to a Gallup poll, agree to “setting higher emissions standards for automobiles” and oppose the President’s “plan to freeze fuel efficiency standards.” But we cannot make progress on these issues — or on healthcare, job creation or civil rights — unless we fix our democracy first.
The way forward is clear. Leaders from labor, progressive, racial and social justice, civic reform, grassroots, environmental and reproductive rights groups recognize that meaningful change on any single issue requires a combined effort to reset democracy’s fundamentals. As I press for an expansion of voting rights and a full and accurate Census count, I do so because I understand how the right to vote and inclusion in the story of America set the stage for change.
Yet, battling voter suppression must be met by federal action to permanently protect voting rights. An accurate Census deserves fair laws that do not privilege incumbents over voters. A popular vote for our nation’s leader would signal a necessary rebuke of racism and classism, and it will require candidates to make every state a priority lest any vote be missed.
I invite all political leaders to join me in supporting a democracy agenda that gives Americans a voice in their government. This agenda includes ending all forms of voter suppression, restoring the Voting Rights Act, enacting automatic voter registration, creating fair districts with independent redistricting commissions, allowing the people who live in Washington, DC, to have full representation, giving self-determination to the people of Puerto Rico, court reform, rooting out corruption in politics and reforming rules in order to allow governance over gridlock. These fundamental changes will allow our democracy to work.
We are a mighty nation because we embedded in our national experiment the chance to fix what is broken and to demand fairness and equality by calling out what has faltered. Improving democracy is part of our DNA as Americans. When African Americans and women were denied the right to vote, we changed our Constitution. After the Great Depression, we updated our banking laws. In the wake of Watergate, we reformed our campaign finance laws. We are again in a moment where urgent, structural change is required to ensure our institutions operate in service of our people. With a renewed commitment and a bold agenda to protect the democratic process, we will create a stronger America.