Republicans in the United States Senate were able to successfully stall the “For the People Act”, a bill that Democrats argued was designed to help expand voting rights and fight off some of the attempts to curtail certain voting rights in some Republican states.
With this came a feeling of despair among many liberals, since a bill pushing for an expansion of voting rights, such as more voting registration options and vote-by-mail, failed. For many, it feels like all hope is lost for voting rights expansions.
Or is it?
I pose this question in light of the Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state of Georgia over its voting law, which “alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” according to United States Attorney General Merrick Garland. On the legal end, this may only be the first act with regards to addressing laws on voting that critics say make it more difficult for some people to vote.
I also pose this question in light of an executive order from President Biden I learned the other day—an executive order that broadly focuses on access to voting. Within that executive order is a lot of material with regards to expanding voter education and access within the laws already on the books. That expansion includes, but is not limited to:
- Work towards expanding the ability of federal employees to take time off and still vote in elections.
- Work towards giving federal employees more ability to serve as non-partisan poll workers.
- The issuing of recommendations of how to expand voter access limitations that people with disabilities experience.
- The issuing of recommendations for protecting the voting rights of Native Americans.
- Voter education among those in federal custody, consistent with laws already on the books.
Now, let me be crystal clear here—all the executive order seems to be trying to do is push for an expansion of voter access and voting rights within the limitations of the laws already on the books, and all the Garland-led Justice Department seems to be doing is addressing what the Justice Department believes to be a violation of voting rights laws already in place. Neither Garland’s action nor Biden’s is an expansion of laws like one would have seen if the For the People Act passed both chambers of Congress and was signed by President Biden, nor should either action be treated as such.
At the same time, it’s not like nothing is happening on the voting rights front. There isn’t nearly as much happening as many (myself included) would like, but the push at the national level to expand voting rights is far from over.
And here’s the thing—that work towards voter expansion still has some chapters left in it. In line with that executive order I mentioned earlier in the blog post, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is requesting information from voters on barriers that keep people with disabilities from voting privately and independently. In other words, people have an opportunity to comment on what sorts of barriers exist when it comes to voting with dignity. In turn, NIST will use responses to inform a report expected to be released this December offering recommendations on how to address said barriers. So, in a way, we the people (particularly disability advocates and people with disabilities) may yet have an influence on recommendations offered by a federal agency on how to expand voter access for people with disabilities.
So, is it disappointing for many (myself included) that voting rights legislation was defeated? Absolutely. But in spite of that defeat, there is still work that has been done (through the executive order from President Biden and the lawsuit against Georgia brought forth by Garland’s Justice Department), as well as work still to do.