Opinion: Democrats, act now to protect US democracy from death spiral

This year began with an assault on the US Capitol, carried out by people seeking to violently overturn the outcome of the 2020 election because their candidate — former President Donald Trump — lost. Fortunately, their efforts failed.

But now GOP-controlled state legislatures across the country have begun taking steps to curtail voting rights, many of which will adversely impact Democratic voters of color. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, as of May this year, legislators in 48 states have introduced 389 bills with restrictive voting provisions — placing new limits on absentee ballots, early voting days, and ballot drop-off boxes, among others.

In short, the anti-democracy haze that hung over the Capitol on January 6 clouds our state legislatures. But we cannot allow it to cloud our vision or dilute our principled commitment to a free and fair American democracy.

Politics may be the art of compromise, but leadership is always about knowing what is non-negotiable. Because people in high office are distanced from the harsh realities everyday people face, it can be easy for political leaders to lose perspective. The job of civil rights movements is to make clear what cannot be negotiated on the backs of everyday people. As people who’ve committed our whole lives to movements for justice and a multiracial democracy, we know that immediate federal protection against current assaults on voting rights is non-negotiable.

In the name of compromise, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia recently suggested that the US Senate could pass scaled-back versions of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Even so, he could not find a single Republican colleague to support his proposal. Instead, Republicans circled their wagons to use the filibuster Manchin has defended as a mechanism to block progress.
Why Stacey Abrams is open to Joe Manchin's voting rights proposal
While many have noted how Manchin’s efforts expose Republican recalcitrance, we must also note how the details of his proposal revealed how dangerous compromise is when it comes to fundamental constitutional rights. For example, Manchin’s proposal would have required some form of voter ID nationwide, expanding to all states a suppression measure that proliferated after the election of our first Black president. His proposal also did not address several reforms included in pending legislation to guard against discrimination in our voting system and modernize our elections.
One centerpiece expansion omitted in Manchin’s proposal was the federal re-enfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people, a cornerstone equality provision of the For the People Act and a moral touchstone of democratic inclusion. Indeed, it appears that several of his modifications to the democracy protection voting bills could have had negative impact, particularly on African Americans and other people of color.
Capitulation to those who are willing to abandon democratic elections as long as it keeps them in power is an insult to the legacy of the late Rep. John Lewis. His blood was spilled on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to help people see the need for the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Now, more than half a century later, Manchin…

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