The fight to protect voting rights at the federal level is dead. But there’s still a glimmer of hope.

voting rights protestor with sign
Activists from various grassroots organizations rally outside City Hall in Los Angeles, California on July 7, 2021, calling on Congress and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to remove the filibuster and pass the “For the People Act” to expand voting rights.

  • The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Arizona’s law that makes it harder to vote.
  • Congress has stalled out on advancing legislation to protect voting rights.
  • But while the fight for voting rights may have died on the federal level, there is still hope to drive out people and protect voting at the state level.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court signed the death certificate for voting rights. In a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, the Court decided that Arizona could implement restrictions that hamper the ability of Black and brown voters to cast their ballot.

In essence, more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act became law, the federal protections against racially discriminatory voting policies have been stripped away. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court has given new energy to right wing states that want to keep minority voters away from the polls.

Democrats have the Supreme Court and red states against them. So their only choice left is to go local – and out-organize anyone standing in their way.

The big lie on steroids

While Republican-controlled states have passed onerous voting laws for years, the recent spate of voter suppression tactics all stem from former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.” The fact that President Joe Biden won the reliably Republican states of Georgia and Arizona sent a shockwave through the GOP. We all know, and perhaps expected, Trump to falsely claim that there was voter “fraud” after his 2020 loss. But now Republicans are falling all over themselves to please the former President by enacting laws to prevent these nonexistent “irregularities” from happening again.

Arizona, where the Supreme Court case originated, prevents friends and neighbors from helping someone turn in absentee ballots. It also allows the state to disqualify voters who accidentally vote in the wrong precinct. Republicans claim they are trying to prevent fraud, but the actual intention is clear when you recognize that local GOP officials routinely shift voting locations in minority neighborhoods – making it easier for these voters to accidentally run afoul of the new law.

Georgia’s new laws, the cause of much outcry earlier this year, not only tighten voter ID requirements – a dog whistle for preventing Black folks from voting – but also make it a crime to pass out water to voters in line. Considering there are generally longer lines where Black voters vote, the water bottle law is designed to force Black voters out of line before making it to the front.

These laws aren’t just in swing states, either. States like Arkansas, Alabama, and Oklahoma have all passed laws making it harder to vote by mail, on top of many other voting restrictions. This is an epidemic, and Democrats must use every means at their disposal to fight back before it’s too late.

Filibustering the filibuster

The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats’ most effective response to voter suppression is to pass a new federal voter protection law. Indeed, some of the very first bills put forth in the US House and Senate this year were to protect voting rights, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The bills have not seen much success because of Republican intransigence.

The most common solution to move past the GOP is changing the filibuster, which prevents any bill from moving forward in the Senate unless it has 60 supporters. Given the 50-50 split in the chamber, this effectively gives the Republican minority veto power over almost every bill brought to the Senate floor.

After the Supreme Court decision, Democrats are calling again for an end to the filibuster so that the voting rights law can pass. But that ship has sailed. The Democrats in the ideological center of the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have not moved on changing the filibuster. And with their stubbornness on the filibuster goes any chance of a new federal voting law.

Democrats across the country need to stop hoping that Congress or the courts will fix this problem. They won’t. Democrats need to take charge themselves.

Voter suppression boomerang

While efforts may be stymied at the federal level, Democrats do have a chance to harness the energy and outrage around voter suppression to increase voter turnout at the state and local level.

To start, they need to let Black, brown, and younger voters know that Republicans are trying to prevent them from voting, and inform them of how to stay on top of their right to vote. Major Democratic Super PACs are already investing in this kind of work, but more funds and more people will be necessary to make a real difference.

In Arizona, where casting a ballot in the wrong place can lead to disqualification, voter education campaigns are essential. The GOP technique only works to suppress the vote when voters don’t know their polling location. With solid organizing, Democrats can ensure every single voter knows where to cast their ballot.

In Georgia, ground zero for many false claims of election fraud, Democrats have already shown what it takes to fight back. Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight has been on the front lines of combating voter suppression. As a result, Georgia Democrats helped flip the White House and Senate in 2020. If Democrats are serious about combating voter suppression, they should set up a Fair Fight in every single state.

Perhaps the single largest step that Democrats can take to fight suppression and increase turnout is to invest in year-round organizing. In too many places, young Democratic staffers parachute in for one campaign cycle and then leave, forgoing the ability to forge the deep connections it takes to win over and help voters.

The chair of the Wisconsin Democrats credits year-round organizing for the slim wins in both Wisconsin and Georgia, and the Democratic state party in Texas is already investing in this. It gets results. Texas Democrats managed to defeat an earlier attempt to pass draconian voter suppression laws, although the governor is still trying.

For the time being, Democrats can’t do anything about the Supreme Court. But the right to vote is precious, and we can use the threat of these new laws to inspire people to hold onto what’s theirs and fight back against Republican attempts to subvert democracy.

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Trump suggests that Republicans might have been better off if Democrat Stacey Abrams was Georgia’s governor instead of Brian Kemp

Stacey Abrams
Former Georgia state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.

  • Trump said that the GOP “might have been better” with Democrat Stacey Abrams as Georgia’s governor.
  • The former president continues to take digs at current Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
  • Last year, Kemp rejected Trump’s entreaties to overturn President Biden’s win in Georgia.
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Former President Donald Trump still has Georgia on his mind.

After now-President Joe Biden narrowly won the state in last year’s presidential race, Trump prodded Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to convene the conservative-led state legislature in order to overturn the results and pressured GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” additional votes to ensure a statewide win.

Trump’s entreaties were rejected, but he has continued to attack both men for what he says was an unfair election process in the state, withholding an endorsement of Kemp in his 2022 reelection campaign and backing Rep. Jody Hice in a Republican secretary of state primary over Raffensperger.

Read more: How Trump could use his relationship with Putin and Russia to skirt prosecution back in the USA

In 2018, Kemp’s Democratic opponent was former state House Minority Leader and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

The race was highly competitive, with Kemp edging out Abrams by a 50.2%-48.8% margin, or 1.4 percentage points, the smallest margin in a Georgia governor’s race since 1966.

Trump was a staunch supporter of Kemp in his first race, but that goodwill has since dried up.

During his first post-presidential rally in Ohio on Saturday, the former president suggested that Abrams might have been a more preferable choice for the GOP than Kemp.

“By the way, we might have been better if she did win for governor of Georgia if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “We might have had a better governor if she did win.”

Trump has not endorsed any of the lesser-known candidates running against Kemp in the GOP gubernatorial primary, but the former president will likely play a decisive role in the immediate future of the state party.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Following in Stacey Abrams’s footsteps, these Spelman College students are rallying young people to vote in Georgia Senate runoffs

Untitled presentation (27)
Stacey Abrams, Nia Dumas, Deja Mason, Aiyana Edwards

  • In a few days, the Georgia runoff elections on January 5 will decide what party takes control of the US Senate. 
  • When Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992, many attributed the flip to Stacey Abrams.
  • Business Insider spoke to students at Spelman College, a top HBCU based in Atlanta, who described how their alumna Abrams inspired them to rally young voters to turn out for the runoff elections. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For 20-year-old Deja Mason, a junior at Spelman, this period in the year is a weird “in-between time.”

Finals are over; people are on winter break. But as part of the New Voters Project, a non-partisan program to encourage young voter turnout,  Mason said she has spent her free time between her virtual classes in the fall semester trying to get her peers to turn out and cast their ballots. With just days left until the contentious Georgia Senate runoffs, she’s reaching out to make sure these voters “have a vote plan,” she said. 

A supporter of Stacey Abrams holds a sign thanking her during a celebration of Democratic nominee Joe Biden's projected presidential win at Freedom Park on November 7, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia
A supporter of Stacey Abrams holds a sign thanking her during a celebration of Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s projected presidential win at Freedom Park on November 7, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia

The Georgia Senate runoffs will decide what party takes control of the Senate, and if Republicans win just one of the two races, President-elect Joe Biden will be the first president since 1989 to not have their party in control of both chambers of Congress. 

Following the November election where Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1992, Stacey Abrams was credited for the flip, as she helped register 800,000 new voters through Fair Fight, a voting rights organization founded by the former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee after her loss in the 2018 midterm elections.

For Mason, Spelman alumna like Abrams, who graduated in 1995, and other women of color in politics energized her to volunteer and encourage young voters to turnout in the Senate runoff elections. 

“I feel Black women, especially such as Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams,” Mason said, “they just give me a lot of inspiration because it shows that I can do what they’re doing.” 

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Deja Mason

Nia Dumas, a junior studying political science at Spelman, echoed Mason’s sentiments. 

“Spelman College is an HBCU for Black women. It’s a place where you can really thrive, and as a Spelman student, I feel like it’s given me that space where I can just be myself without having to worry about outside influences and things like that,” she told Business Insider. “So when all of these Spelman women are together and trying to advocate for change, it pushes you and it inspires you.” 

In a video posted on Spelman’s website for voter resources, Abrams speaks directly to current students: “I was 17, ready to change the world, and I knew Spelman would be a part of it.”

“When I was 17, I set up my first voter registration table helping sign up people to vote long before I was able to do so,” she continues. “I’m proud of who you are – I’m proud that you have chosen to become Spelman women,” Abrams added.

Dumas, who also spent the semester virtually from home roughly a 50 minutes’ drive outside of Atlanta, leads Spelman’s Fair Fight chapter, excited to work for an “organization that was literally there to fight voter suppression, and its CEO was an alumna of my college,” she said. 

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Nia Dumas

The young voters that Dumas and Mason are reaching out to has proven to be an increasingly formidable voting bloc. Young voter turnout in the 2020 election was much larger than four years ago: around 42 to 44% of voters under 30 turned out for the 2016 election, whereas between 52 to 55% of this group turned out for the 2020 election, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University. In Georgia, voters under the age of 30 counted for 20% of all votes cast, according to Tufts University.

“I think young voters understand that if we don’t decide for ourselves, someone else will decide for us,” Dumas said. “The policies and the legislations and things that are going into action now – if they don’t affect us now, they will affect us in the years to come.”

Aiyana Edwards, who is in her second year at Spelman, told Business Insider she has been working through RISE, a student advocacy organization, to encourage young people online to make a plan to vote. In the November election, she said she also worked as a poll monitor as part of the Election Protection Coalition.

Edwards said that seeing Abrams’ work meant “seeing a Black woman have the opportunity to create her own organization to increase the participation in Georgia,” which was inspiring. 

Aiyana Edwards

In a historic record, about 3 million people have already cast their ballots, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. With a few days left before the election on Jan. 5, Edwards, Dumas, and Mason are making a final push for young voters.

Mason, in an appeal to them, said she can understand if they’re tired by the continuous political messages ahead of the election. 

“There is so much weighing on us,” she said, but “using your vote and making sure your voice is heard is extremely significant.”

Read the original article on Business Insider