RBG was right. She understood that the history of our democracy revealed the fragility of our commitment to protecting voting rights. There have been frequent rainstorms threatening the vote and we need strong legislation backed by the courts to protect marginalized groups.
Restrictive measures in other states are under consideration. Republicans in Ohio, for example, are proposing a bill that would prohibit ballot drop boxes and limit early voting.
None of this should come as a surprise. The reason we needed the Voting Rights Act in the first place was because this nation has done such a poor job protecting the most essential part of the democratic process. Women did not have the right to vote until the 19th amendment was ratified. African Americans couldn’t vote until Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era that followed imposed draconian literacy tests and poll taxes, along with outright intimidation, to prevent them from casting ballots. As the historian Alex Keyssar argued in his book “The Right to Vote,” the history of suffrage has not been a steady evolution toward greater inclusion but a fierce battle with ebbs and flows.
What we need is strong legislation that ensures that every American can participate in our democratic process without unnecessary obstacles. The For the People Act, which would require automatic voter registration, reduce the influence of private money in campaigns and limit partisan gerrymandering, is one potential opportunity to push back against the state-level voter restrictions.
RGB was right. It’s time for Congress to put back the umbrella. Our democracy is soaking wet.