Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (Courtesy of Atlanta Black Star)
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (Courtesy of Atlanta Black Star)

Congress needs to act immediately to ensure safe and free elections in November, according to several activist organizations that fear voting rights are in danger.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, American Association of People with Disabilities, and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda have expressed their desire for congressional intervention.

In a news conference that included Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the organizations hailed the 55th anniversary of signing the landmark Voting Rights Act as a time for action.

“In 2020, not only do voters of color, students, people with disabilities, and many Native Americans face barriers to the ballot like strict voter ID laws, polling place closures, and purges of the voter rolls, they also face the new obstacle of COVID-19,” the organizations said in a news release. “The nation has witnessed the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on our elections through the chaos in recent primaries with hourslong lines and massive polling place closures in states like Georgia and Wisconsin, where voters had to put their health and safety at risk to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

The Senate must immediately include $3.6 billion in the next COVID-19 package to ensure safeguards for America’s democracy during the pandemic and beyond, said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“That includes mandating that states establish vital protections for voters and a range of options to ensure every person can safely cast a ballot in a way that works for them,” Gupta said. “Without a functional democracy in which everyone is included, heard, and represented, we cannot make real progress on civil and human rights issues like affordable health care, fair wages, educational equity, and justice reform.”

It would be impossible to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 without acknowledging the death of voting rights hero John Lewis, Sewell added.

“Not only must [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) take up and pass the John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020 — which has been sitting on his desk since December 2019 — he ought to support the VoteSafe Act that requires states to permit no-excuse mail-in absentee voting for the 2020 elections and an early in-person voting period of at least 20 days for the 2020 elections,” Sewell said.

“Ensuring free and fair elections is the cornerstone of our democracy and, right now, too many Americans are being left behind,” she said. “We must recommit ourselves to John Lewis’ vision of America, and restore the promise of voter equality.”

Americans shouldn’t have to choose between exercising their right to vote or protecting their health, Padilla said.

“Congress must act to provide the funding necessary for state and local elections officials to administer accessible, secure, and safe elections,” he said.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson noted that “the onslaught against protections for voters of color continues to intensify as we move closer to November.”

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest across the country, it has been made abundantly clear that the people’s voice and vote require immediate restoration,” Johnson said. “The disintegration of voting rights has disproportionately affected Black voters; we must work diligently to curtail the consequences and place the power back in the hands of the electorate.”

Maria Town, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, demanded that people with disabilities frequently encounter barriers to participation in the democratic process — from inaccessible polling places to inoperable accessible voting machines to discriminatory voter ID laws.

“During the pandemic, a shift in voting by mail presents additional barriers and will not be accessible to many in the disability community,” Padilla said. “States need funding to ensure they can execute accessible vote by mail programs and maintain safe, accessible, and fair in-person early and election day voting.”

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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