Last month, voters in Georgia waited hours in line to vote because of “a full-scale meltdown of new voting systems” put in place by the state — during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, Georgia was defending a blatantly unconstitutional abortion ban in court, which, if upheld, would have banned abortion at six weeks in pregnancy, before many people even know they’re pregnant. On July 13, a district court struck down the ban.
But Georgians still endure medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion. And the state, as it joins the country in mourning the death of voting and civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, has less than 100 days to put in place measures to allow all Georgians to vote safely, in the midst of the pandemic.
Restrictions on our most basic rights to bodily autonomy and to vote are deeply entwined. It is no coincidence that the politicians forcing people to risk their own safety to vote are the same politicians who have long attacked our fundamental right to control our bodies. And it’s no coincidence that people who suffer the most from these dual attacks are people of color. People in power have long attempted to restrict our control over our bodies and our vote in an attempt to keep white supremacy in place and quiet those in the “minority.”
Long before the global pandemic, politicians used voter suppression efforts to restrict access to the ballot, particularly for people of color. The Brennan Center found that on average, Black and Latinx voters waited about 45% longer in line than white voters in the 2018 midterms — a problem that will likely be exacerbated by the havoc COVID-19 has wreaked on U.S.elections, and on the health, economic well-being, and lives of Black and Latinx people.
For decades, politicians have rigged the system by gerrymandering, purging voter rolls, disenfranchising people with felony convictions, and more. That’s why there’s such a mismatch between how people feel about abortion rights and state policies. Support for abortion access is near record highs, and there is not a single state where outlawing abortion is popular. Yet 58% of women of reproductive age (nearly 40 million people), live in a state that has demonstrated hostility to abortion rights.
One of those states is Florida, where I grew up as a first-generation Sikh Indian American woman. Watching what is happening there is heartbreaking, as the state breaks records for coronavirus cases and deaths. But it’s also heartbreaking because in the throes of the pandemic, Gov. DeSantis, signed a forced parental consent for abortion law that will put already at-risk youth in further jeopardy, and goes against advice from the medical community. There are already five states in the country with only one abortion provider, and 16 cases just one step from Supreme Court that could even further restrict access. The majority are being silenced by those who hold the power. The only way to take back that power is to vote.
That’s why if you care about reproductive rights, you must also care about voting rights.
In the next 100 days, we can expect the Trump administration and its political allies to ramp up their attacks on access to the ballot box — even if it puts the health of Americans in danger. President Trump himself said the quiet part out loud: The more voters there are, the worse he believes he and his party will fare. Politicians are already working to make it more difficult to vote: from preventing absentee ballot requests from being mailed to voters, to blocking governors' requests for additional resources to help safely conduct elections.
These attacks on voting rights and ballot access present a grave threat to our democracy, uphold the systems that maintain white supremacy, and obstruct access to health care for Black and Latinx communities. As the country continues to tackle COVID-19, we need robust funding for voting reforms to ensure every single American feels safe voting in November and can vote if they want.
Fortunately, we already have the roadmap to make that happen. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act in May, and it allocates an additional $3.6 billion in federal funds for voting reforms, including:
● extended early in-person voting period, to allow voters to cast their ballots over a spread-out period rather than in a cluster on Election Day;
● absentee voting-by-mail for all, without needing to provide a reason;
● expanded voter registration options, including online voter registration and same-day voter registration;
● prohibition on changing polling places in ways that make it harder for some people — people of color, Native Americans, limited-English proficient citizens, people with disabilities, and students — to vote;
● More voter education so voters understand new practices and disinformation doesn’t spread.
These reforms aren’t just necessary, they are also popular. Voters overwhelmingly support expanding access to voting rights, through measures like early voting (81%) and making Election Day a national holiday (73%), especially in response to the pandemic. Unfortunately, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Senate leadership just released a bill that provides zero dollars for voting reforms--a complete dereliction of duty that puts our democracy at risk. Any final relief bill must include robust funding to protect our elections and ensure the safety of voters.
For me, for my family, and for Black and Brown people across the country, our lives and our rights are at stake in this election. We need to know that our voices will be heard. We need to make voting safe.
Anisha Singh is Director of Judiciary and Democracy Affairs at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
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