Biden marks Selma anniversary as lawmakers introduce stricter voting bills

When President Joe Biden crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. over the weekend to commemorate “Bloody Sunday,” he did so as state legislatures across the country have introduced an increase in voter restriction laws.

Biden’s visit comes days before the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” which occurred on March 7, 1965. Civil rights activists gathered 57 years ago in Selma for a 54-mile walk to the state’s Capitol in Montgomery with the intention of securing the rights of Black voters to cast a ballot in the South.

Instead, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers brutally beat the demonstrators. Eight days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act of 1965, guaranteeing voting rights for Black Americans throughout the United States.

“The right to vote and to have your vote counted is the threshold of democracy and liberty,” Biden said at the anniversary event. “With it, anything is possible. Without that right, nothing is possible.

“And this fundamental right remains under assault.”

Today, activists say lawmakers are attempting to roll back accessibility regulations for voting with bills that could enable officials to initiate audits of election results, enact criminal penalties on election officials for standard election administration and statewide bans on ballot-counting machines.

Based on an analysis conducted by The Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, 150 restrictive voting bills have been introduced by state lawmakers in 32 states this year alone. That number is higher than similar legislative measures presented in 2021 and 2022.

Voting rights have been consistently chipped away at through a variety of tactics. After President Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, he inaccurately touted claims that voter fraud cost him the presidency, spouting baseless assertions about machine tampering, voters casting multiple ballots and corruption, leading conservative lawmakers to introduce more restrictive voting bills.

Some of the states where the legislation is being introduced are Texas, Virginia, Mississippi, West Virginia, Arizona and Kansas. According to the policy institute, two Southern states have introduced some of the most radical pieces of voting legislation.

In Texas, H.B. 87 would give presidential electors the power to disregard state election results by forcing a winning candidate for vice president or president to certify that they are willing and able to serve in their elected position.

If the candidate agrees, electors still need to vote to deny or affirm the certification. If most of the electors deny the candidate’s ability to serve, officials may move to reject their party’s candidate.

In Virginia, if S.B. 1316 were to pass, citizens could demand a “forensic audit” of election results if they get a petition signed by 1,000 people. Residents could then void election results once an audit has been conducted.

Both the Texas and Virginia bills were introduced by Republican lawmakers.

In 2021, President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order promoting voter equity. A news release announcing the decision stated that federal agencies would expand voter registration and election information, provide voting access and education to citizens in federal custody and analyze barriers to voting for people with disabilities, in addition to other measures.

The Executive Order came nearly 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, which put the burden of proof on voters to verify that they’re disenfranchised in areas that were previously protected under the Voting Rights Act.

In response, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) introduced the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 to remedy some of the measures made moot by the Supreme Court decision by aiming to end discriminatory practices at the voting booth.

Some of the key parts of the legislation include new guidelines for preclearance, which would require jurisdictions to get approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court in the District of Columbia before amending voting laws or practices if they’ve been found to have violated voting rights up to 25 years prior.

The Supreme Court nullified the original preclearance formula in the 1965 law, which sought to curb practices like requiring voters to take literacy tests to register to vote. Congress later enacted a nationwide ban of tests and similar devices to determine voter eligibility in 1975.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which is named after the civil rights leader who was a leader of the Selma march, seeks to update it.

Due to the court’s decision, the latest redistricting cycle was done without the preclearance requirement, enabling politicians to draw partisan maps without much federal oversight or concern for violating anti-discriminatory practices.

Separately, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would give voters the opportunity to file civil suits to block laws and practices considered to be discriminatory, among other initiatives.

“We must remain vigilant,” Biden said. “Let’s keep marching. Let’s keep the faith.”

The Reckon Report.
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