The threat to US voting rights has grown - what is different about this time?

There has been more awareness of voter oppression in recent years, but in the past few months, 'there is no attempt to pretend', said Stacey Abrams


Since joining the Guardian in 2019 to focus on voting rights, the title of the explosion has shifted to the center of American politics. After focusing on these threats towards the 2020 race, this week we launched the next phase of how to deal with these threats, which have only grown since November.

Yesterday, we published an article explaining why American democracy is facing a particularly dangerous time. The issue sets out what I think are the most urgent threats: aggressive measures to reduce the right to vote in state legislatures, a high court with no interest in protecting voting rights, and the over-distribution of parties, which must be addressed later this year. These will be the pillars of the Guardian US acquisition next year.

In this episode, I have asked many people the same question: what is so different about this time than what we have seen in the past? There has been a growing awareness of voter pressure in recent years, but in the last few months, something has changed.

I asked this question to Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia prime minister who helped make voter voting a national issue. He said over the past 15 years there had been a "slow sweat" of voter pressure that was difficult to see if you were not following it closely. What is happening now, he said, is different.

“What is noteworthy about this period is that it is very disturbing. There is no attempt to pretend that the intention is not to prevent votes, ”he said. (You can read our full discussion here).

I also spoke to LaTosha Brown, the founder of the Black Voters Matter, who has spent decades organizing voters in the south, about what it was like to see such violent restrictions after an election in which the voting record was held. He pointed out that the United States has a long history of oppressing Black voters when they increase their political participation.

“We are in this hamster wheel to do the job of registering to vote. People use their vote, especially Black voters, and are punished for using that vote, ”he told me.

As things get worse now, they can only get worse. Towards the end of the year, legislatures across the country will begin the process of rebuilding electoral constituencies, which the constitution mandates once every ten years. While both parties have used this process to gain political advantage, it has gone out of control in recent years. Advances in technology and sophisticated data allow lawmakers to carefully record regions in such a way that they can ensure re-voting.

Over the past decade, Republicans have been using this process to their advantage, and they have been well-positioned to control the process again this year. They will have fewer defenses that could prevent them from increasing their engagement profits when drawing districts - the high court ruled in 2019 that state courts could do nothing to stop the process. Lawmakers in areas with a history of voter discrimination also no longer need to have their maps reviewed before racism can take effect.

“Over the past ten years Republicans have tried to place Black voters in the southern states and say they are trying to do so because of the [Voting Rights] law. Now there is an open way for [the Republicans] to say, ‘Well, we are putting black voters in the constituencies because they are Democrats.’ And the high court said it was okay, ”Michael Li, a rehabilitation expert at Brennan Center, told me.

Democrats have put a lot of effort into addressing these issues in a proposed voting rights bill in Washington. This measure will require independent commissions to draw districts and require early voting and automatic registration with the same date, among other things. The Senate held its first hearing on the bill on Wednesday and Republicans buried their heels, hard. Passing the bill will probably depend on whether the Democrats can remove the filibuster or not, a process that requires 60 votes to advance the law.