In Atlanta, President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democratic campaign arm overtakes GOP counterpart in final quarter of 2021 Putin’s ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’ involving Ukraine could backfire on Ukraine recently sounded the alarm about the proliferation of dangerous state laws across the country aimed at suppressing and further subverting the right to vote, and cited the need for voter protection interventions at the federal level. Georgia is currently at ground zero in this battle since sweeping changes to state election laws last year prompted lawsuits for targeting the rights of voters of color. Biden’s speech came at the start of Georgia’s 2022 legislative session, in which lawmakers will debate proposals to expand last year’s laws, including banning ballot boxes for absentee voters and investigating on electoral complaints without the authorization of the local electoral authorities.
New bills in Georgia, New Hampshire, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma and South Carolina are the latest in an ongoing effort by Republicans to curb voting rights; last year, 33 laws were passed in 19 states that will make it harder to vote.
Unless national legislation is passed to protect the right to vote, the bills currently on the table in states across the country will disproportionately prevent black voters and other marginalized communities from voting. This would not only be a blow to American democracy, but it would also be a setback for environmental justice and climate action.
Congress has two opportunities to pass national legislation to protect the right to vote. The Freedom to Vote Act would set national standards to expand access to the vote, prevent voter suppression and election sabotage, as well as modernize voter registration. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would fully restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has been scuffed by recent Supreme Court actions.
While these new restrictions are ostensibly in the name of preventing supposed voter fraud, let’s be clear: Extensive research has proven that fraud is rare, and there is no evidence that the state’s proposed bills will actually fix the little fraud that exists. Instead, these bills will prevent people from voting. Subversive tactics such as interference in local election administration undermine local control and public trust. Removing or reducing drop boxes for absentee voters eliminates one of the most convenient voting options. The consolidation or closure of polling stations in densely populated communities will force voters to line up for hours to cast their ballots.
And when a person’s right to vote is taken away, their voice is silenced and their influence is reduced on a multitude of issues. As Biden said in Atlanta, “the fundamental right to vote is the right from which all other rights flow.”
The fight to restore and protect voting rights in the United States is directly linked to the ongoing fight for climate and environmental justice. Communities of color, people with disabilities and other historically marginalized communities disenfranchised by electoral injustice are the very ones most impacted by climate and environmental injustices. It is well documented that communities of color, low income and marginalized communities contribute the least to climate change but suffer the most from its impacts. Climate-fueled natural disasters are already widening the wealth inequality gap between whites and people of color. Communities of color are also far more likely to live near major pollution sources and are disproportionately impacted by other environmental risks, from drinking water pollution in Flint, Michigan, to the devastating effects of last February’s winter storm in Texas.
Voter suppression practices such as gerrymandering disproportionately harm black, Latino, and Asian voters. Due to lived experience, voters of color are more concerned than white voters about climate change. According to Yale’s Climate Change Communication Program, Latino voters are more likely to contact government officials about climate change, and more black Americans than white Americans are alarmed about what’s happening with the climate. . Voter protection laws will help ensure that no one is denied the opportunity to elect leaders who have their best interests at heart, including supporting policies and practices that can help protect their communities from the harshest impacts. of climate change.
A recent environmental justice analysis of Ohio’s redesigned (and recently cancelled) congressional districts reinforces this point. The analysis mapped new districts in the state based on demographic, economic, and health risk data for communities in the state. He found that the communities with the worst health risks – which are predominantly communities of color – “have been divided in a way that dilutes their political influence, as they are combined into larger districts with suburban and rural areas. who do not experience the same health risks”.
Voters from across the environmental and climate justice community oppose these Jim Crow-style election laws. According to a 2020 survey by Latino Decisions, Latino voters, regardless of political party, support federal policies to protect against water and air pollution. More than half of Latinos, 55%, reside in one of the three states that have experienced the latest devastating weather disasters: California wildfires, Texas heat waves and sea level rise. in Florida. In every state, the Latino community is fighting to expand voter access and correct election misinformation.
The right to vote and to make every vote count is one of the central pillars of any democracy, and one that American politicians like to defend in campaign speeches. Congress owes it to the American people to do all they can to protect it. It is imperative that Congress act to ensure that all voters can make their voices and priorities heard in elections and are not silenced by actions that resemble those of authoritarian countries. Disenfranchisement will only deepen existing inequalities in this country at a time when we need all voices to be heard and everyone to be on board to help build a brighter future.