The GOP’s Voter Suppression Strategy

Malcolm Kenyatta sits in the chambers in Harrisburg, wearing a navy suit and a face covering, pointing and speaking as he defends access to the ballot

Today in the sacred chambers on Capitol Hill, legislators will vote on whether to begin debating a bill that would effectively secure the rights and freedoms of every American to cast a ballot, no matter where they live, how much they make, or who they vote for. Democrats from all over our country are hoping for united support from the party, but the truth of the matter is that our pathway to victory here is looking slim. However, we cannot be swayed in our efforts to secure democracy. Our fight has only just begun.

In the face of dumbfounded silence, I made one thing clear beyond a shadow of a doubt: the 150 pages of “voting integrity” legislation that Seth Grove produced are absolute garbage. Even as the GOP decorates HB1300with language about “security” and “bipartisanship,” I called this bill what it really is: Artisanal voter suppression.

Right now, Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country are swiftly moving to restrict voting rights in ways we haven’t seen in a century — with measures being passed from coast to coast to make it harder to register, harder to vote absentee, and harder to vote in person.

It turns out-this never-ending cycle of lies started right here in Pennsylvania. It was recently revealed that my GOP colleagues started asking for an audit as far back as December. And now the Legislature is pushing forward significant restrictions that roll back voting rights, just as new revelations last week show how former President Trump has been pressuring election officials to launch conspiracy-driven audits of the 2020 election to find supposed voter fraud where none exists.

Republicans in Harrisburg have already introduced a bill to eliminate the permanent early voter list, limit absentee ballot applications, end no-excuse mail-in voting and reduce eligibility for mail-in voting to specific groups not even six months after the safest election in the history of our state. Now, there’s increasing talk of new restrictive voter ID and signature matching measures meant to disenfranchise the most vulnerable communities — like seniors, students, and communities grappling with severe poverty.

More than 100 days into Joe Biden’s presidency, Republicans continue to this day to spread lies about the 2020 election, often directly targeting Pennsylvania. When they lose fair and square, they want to change the rules to rig the game. In a desperate attempt to rig the rules in the face of declining support, the GOP has chosen to infringe on our freedom to vote instead of engaging with working families the way Democrats and progressives have.

We’ve seen these tricks time and time again. We cannot stand by while our voting rights and, by extension, our freedom to vote, are under attack. Like many of you, I saw the GOP’s pathetic power-grab coming from a mile away, and in 2020, I started raising the alarms that the GOP’s top priority was to make it harder and less convenient to vote. It angered me to my core to watch my colleagues try to disenfranchise my own constituents and the people whose lives were on the line as COVID relief was still a distant hope and bills kept piling up.

With so much at stake, I returned on my mom’s sage advice: no one is coming to save us. It’s up to us to do something about it. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation focused on protecting our freedom to vote. My proposed legislation would establish a month of early voting and to give counties two weeks to process mail-in ballots before election day.

Every single eligible voter in Pennsylvania should be able to exercise their freedom to vote, no holds barred. But my GOP colleagues are installing barrier after barrier to the ballot, making it hard for voters to make their voices heard. Nearly one in five PA residents is a senior citizen. Countless have disabilities. Even more of us have small children, unpredictable work schedules, or fickle transportation.

We have the solutions that will make the ballot accessible to all of us, no matter what life throws at us on Election Day. In PA, we already have no-excuse mail-in voting, and some counties offer early voting. We can also provide same-day voter registration, increased drop-box access, and pre-canvassing so that voters who make technical mistakes on their mail-in ballot have the chance to correct the issue and make their voices heard.

But rather than expand access to the ballot, the GOP in PA and across the US are creating rules so they can pick and choose who gets to vote. Battleground states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, that President Biden won, are seeing a surge of voter-restrictive laws introduced.

Georgia recently passed legislation that would make it a crime to give water to voters waiting in line, require a photo ID for absentee voting, and limit the window voters have to request an absentee ballot. In Arizona, legislation was introduced to place restrictions on who can assist voters in collecting mail-in ballots, to add a voter ID requirement for turning in mail-in ballots in person, and to require notarization of mail-in ballots.

We can’t let these laws pass in Pennsylvania. We need the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act now more than ever. If our senate would do whatever it takes to protect our democracy, some of the laws up for debate in PA would already be outlawed. We wouldn’t be having any conversations around closing dropbox locations, Voter ID, or prison gerrymandering at all if the Senate would step up, do its job, and fight for the most basic tenet of our democracy: voters get to pick their leaders.

No matter what issue is important to you — education, taxes, the climate crisis, justice reform, healthcare — your power is in your vote. If legislators make voters jump through hoops to have a say in who fights for us, we will never fulfill the basic American promise of equal representation. We must link arms and fight for our voices in the face of overwhelming attacks.