Op-EdOpinionRev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.

JESSE JACKSON: Time for Democracy to Work

The right to vote is fundamental to a democracy. Today in America, however, that right is under partisan attack across the country. If it is to be defended, nonpartisan reforms must pass across a partisan divide.

The question now is whether Democrats will join together to protect the right to vote from the assault it faces from Republicans at every level of government. That assault is clear and unrelenting. Right-wing justices on the Supreme Court — appointed by Republican presidents — have systematically undermined the right to vote — gutting the Voting Rights Act, opening the door to unlimited and secret money from corporations and the super-rich, and enabling partisan gerrymandering free of judicial review. At the state level, Republican operatives and politicians have echoed Donald Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election — a lie refuted by Trump’s own attorney general, by Trump-appointed judges and by Republican election officials.

They have all used fictitious delusions about fraud as an excuse to pass a bevy of laws to make voting harder in states that they control. Thus far, 18 Republican-controlled states have passed laws to limit access to the ballot box, or, even more dangerously, to undercut an independent, nonpartisan counting of the ballots cast.

And at the national level, Republicans in the Senate have joined at the hip to block efforts to reform election laws to protect free and fair elections. They have used the filibuster to block the ability of the majority to act. The reality is indisputable. One party — the party supported by a minority of the American people — is seeking to make it harder to vote.

One party supported by a growing majority is seeking to make voting easier. That isn’t new. After the Civil War, the 14th and 15th Amendments, which guaranteed freed slaves the right to vote and to equal protection under the laws, were only passed over the bitter partisan opposition of Southern Democrats. Modern-day Republicans are now following in the footsteps of the plantation Democrats of the Old South, who enacted the Jim Crow laws that suppressed the Black vote for decades.

Are today’s Democrats prepared to protect the right to vote against their efforts? On August 16, the population data from the recent census will be released to the states. This will trigger a flurry of redistricting with Republicans intent on partisan gerrymandering that could give them enough rigged seats to win the House. Two Democratic senators — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — argue that they will oppose suspending or repealing the filibuster to pass voter reforms because they should be passed on a bipartisan basis.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics,” wrote Manchin, adding that “protecting this right … should never be done in a partisan manner.” Surely, it would be preferable to pass reforms with the support of both parties, but it is impossible when one party is all in on voter suppression. The Democratic leadership plans to give Manchin the chance to enlist Republican support for the modest election reforms that Manchin backs.

There is no sign that he can gain anything close to the 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Delay is a loser’s game. It is time for Democrats to act, and for Manchin and Sinema to face reality. Congress must pass reforms to outlaw partisan gerrymandering and protect access to the ballot box before it is too late. That will require suspending or repealing the filibuster and ending the ability of the minority to frustrate the will of the majority. It’s time for our democracy to work — this time to protect itself.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.

Founder and President, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures. Over the past forty years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice. On August 9, 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Reverend Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

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