Republicans’ Jim Crow 2.0 voter suppression laws spark fight for democracy
People rally outside of the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., April 13, 2021, during a rally to support voting rights and end voter suppression. | Matthew Dae Smith / Lansing State Journal via AP

The country is today faced with a fundamental crisis with the proliferation of voter suppression laws, nullification of votes cast, and the determination of the Republican Party and pro-fascist forces to prevent people—particularly African Americans, Latinx, youth, and seniors—from voting.

The so-called excuse for this proliferation is the myth of voter fraud, the same false excuse made for the last 30 years. The right-wing rationale for this myth is to undermine people’s confidence in the electoral system. This fraud is taking place in Maricopa County, Arizona right now with a fourth, and now secret, recount is being done by a private firm with no accountability or transparency almost six months after the election.

Since the 2020 elections, more than 350 voter suppression laws in 47 states have been introduced. This is nothing new, but it is on a scale not seen since the Jim Crow era. These laws have escalated from election to election because, as is now understood by millions and even admitted by some Republicans, the more people who vote, the more progressive the elected representatives. Republicans know they cannot win without these laws.

The single purpose is control of all three branches of government by a right-wing minority. The goal is a system where the losers win (the same as the purpose of the filibuster). With the composition of the current Supreme Court, which will hear legal challenges to the laws, fighting these latest efforts to stop voting is yet another uphill battle for democracy.

It is imperative that a new universal federal election law and process be put into place to guarantee free and fair elections—one person, one vote.

This struggle for a national election law is not an easy one because of the ongoing legacy of the old segregationist battle cry of “states rights.” There are 50 different sets of state election laws plus D.C. But understanding is growing for a uniform national election law that would at least cover federal elections. There is no rationale for 51 different laws governing congressional and presidential elections.

The Trump-instigated January 6th coup attempt brought the struggle for democracy to a new level.

In the run-up to the 2020 elections, there was determination to overcome every obstacle placed in the way of voting. There were massive voter registration drives. There were the inspiring examples of people braving the coronavirus and standing in lines for hours and hours. The pictures of the Georgia and Michigan primary lines have been indelibly inscribed in people’s minds. We saw musicians and actors entertaining people in line. We saw people bringing food and coffee to people standing in line. And people voted. And Stacey Abrams became a household name. For every voter suppression law passed, there was organization to overcome it.

The history of the right to vote in our country has been a long and bloody struggle with many people giving their lives, from the fight for “no taxation, without representation” against the monarchy to the same fight for representation for D.C. statehood, or the fight to extend the vote to non property owners, or to African American men, or to women, or against the poll tax and all Jim Crow laws, or for the 1965 Voting Rights Act—right up to the modern-day Jim Crow laws of the new voter suppression assault. Our whole history has seen the struggle to expand the right to vote move from one battle to the next. And as long as the Electoral College exists, there is no such thing as “one person, one vote” in the country. These struggles and gains have been hard-fought, costing many lives and much bloodshed.

These new Jim Crow 2.0 laws are racist to the core. Of course, the most well-known is the Georgia law, which is a direct product of both the Biden win in that state and the victories of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Senate runoffs against incumbent Republicans. But there is also the Iowa law, draconian proposals in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Texas, plus hundreds of proposals in the other 41 states.

What are some of the most egregious aspects of these laws and proposed laws?

  • The ability of county election officials to overturn the results of the vote in their county
  • The ability of state legislatures to overthrow the results of the election in their state
  • End no-excuse vote by mail
  • Repeal automatic voter registration
  • Voter ID requirements to vote by mail, including notarization
  • Make all voters register through the Secretary of State instead of with their local officials
  • More aggressive purging of voter rolls
  • Elimination of Sunday early voting, directly affecting “Souls to the Polls”
  • Eliminate no excuse absentee voting
  • Shortening the early voting period and voting hours
  • Reduce or eliminate drop box locations
  • Criminalize door knocking or texting
  • Criminalize helping someone get their mail-in ballot to a post box
  • Eliminate drive-thru voting
  • Institute a so-called “Voter Fraud Hotline” where a person can report a voter and claim they shouldn’t be voting
  • Eliminate same-day voter registration
  • Require thumbprints for mail-in ballots
  • Prevent federal courts from putting limits on gerrymandering
  • Criminalize giving people water while they are waiting in long polling place lines
  • Fines for corporations that speak out against state suppression laws

There are plenty more but fundamentally they all fit into four main categories, according to the Brennan Center for Justice:

  • Limit mail-in and early access
  • Implementing stricter ID requirements
  • Slashing voter registration opportunities
  • Aggressively purging voter rolls

What do we need to fight back?

First and foremost, passage in the Senate of HR 1, the For the People Act, which deals with the fundamental right to vote, and HR 5, the John Lewis Voter Rights Bill, which will restore the Voting Rights Act and its pre-clearance requirements for changes to voting laws.

Voting is a fundamental constitutional right, not an entitlement. It applies equally to all Americans and that is what Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act guarantees and that’s what would be restored and expanded with HR 5.

As Stacey Abrams stated succinctly, “As long as states have the ability to engage in voter suppression, to react to communities of color participation by putting up these barriers, then we are all in danger and our democracy is in danger.” This is the importance of passing HR 1 and HR 5 in the fight for democracy.

But there will also be other bills, some already existing, others to be drafted, dealing with:

  • National, portable voter registration with a national voter ID given at birth. Babies get Social Security numbers but don’t use them until they work—the same would be true of a national voter ID given at birth. This is the most powerful way of guaranteeing and not denying the right to vote.
  • Statehood for D.C., which would end voter suppression for 700,000 people.
  • Automatic voter registration at every federal and state office.
  • Same day registration.
  • Early voting days—7 days a week for one month prior to the election, with hours that are conducive to people who work.
  • Universal vote by mail.
  • Paper trail voting machines.
  • No purging from voter lists simply because a person is an occasional voter.
  • Public funding for elections.
  • Voting rights for immigrants, regardless of status.
  • County boards of elections fully funded.
  • Empower grassroots donors by limiting corporate influence and boosting small-dollar donations.
  • Sufficient polling places to guarantee no long lines and people waiting for hours to vote.
  • Restore voting rights for people who are incarcerated and extend voting rights for all.
  • Abolish the Electoral College.
  • End the filibuster and restore majority rule in the Senate.
  • Non-partisan redistricting commissions would help end gerrymandering.
  • Ballot access for independent candidates.

Coalitions of dozens of national and local organizations are registering new voters and fighting the suppression laws and proposed laws. Legal challenges have been filed in Georgia and Iowa. Some of the most egregious proposals have been defeated; in Arizona, a proposal for aggressive voter purges died in the state Senate after passing in the House.

Positive laws have also been passed. For example, in New Jersey, there is now early voting in addition to no-excuse mail-in voting. In Virginia and New York, there is ranked choice voting. In Kentucky, voters can fix errors on their mail-in ballots to stop them from being thrown out.

What needs to be done? The many organizations fighting against voter suppression deserve support and participation. Every locality should keep track of voter suppression, as well as positive laws introduced in their state in order to join in the fight against or for them. Positive laws should be introduced to expand voter rights. These fights are centered in the states. This is a fight for democracy, and the American people are overwhelmingly in support of this fight as all the polls show.


Lee Dlugin
Lee Dlugin

Lee Dlugin is a longtime organizer and political activist. She writes from New Jersey.