I ran to become your state representative because I believe in the power of us to make change together. I’m proud of the high level of community engagement in our district and have enjoyed the thoughtful conversations we’ve had during town halls, lobby days, office hours, through email, and on the phone this year. One of the questions I get frequently is how people can get more involved and help make change at the Capitol and in our communities that will support our neighbors and others who may be struggling. I love this question - working together to create change is what our democracy is all about!
With the goal of providing a more in-depth look at important issues we’re facing and what we can do about them, this week I’m introducing a new monthly feature: Issues Connecting Community and the Capitol. I’m starting with a defining issue for us in 2021 and one I’ve worked on a long time - defending and strengthening our democracy. Make sure to follow me on Facebook for more on this topic and future installments!
A Make or Break Moment for Voting Rights and Democracy
Voter Suppression and Election Subversion Bills Introduced Across the Country
In 2020, we saw a record number of people - from every race, background, zip code, and political party - vote and the most diverse group of voters in history. High voter turnout across the country is good for our democracy no matter who you vote for, but instead of celebrating, we saw right-wing lawmakers respond to 2020 by doubling down on a decade-long strategy to erect unnecessary obstacles to voting and gerrymander districts to their own partisan advantage. Instead of trying to win elections by competing with their ideas, right-wing Republicans and their big money conservative backers have been working to change the rules and erode the power of the people to decide who wins our elections.
This year, Republican legislators in 49 states - including Minnesota - championed anti-voter legislation, using the Big Lie of “voter fraud” and conspiracy theories to justify their attempts to undermine the electoral process and disenfranchise voters. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, more than 400 bills to restrict voting access have been introduced in state legislatures this year. 18 states have enacted anti-voter laws in 2021 alone, and a few legislatures are still in session, so even more could pass this year or next.
We’ve also seen a newer election subversion push in response to the 2020 election, with the goal of manipulating the rules of who counts the votes and who certifies elections in a way that could strip power from election officials and make it easier for partisan figures to overturn future elections. Election subversion laws have passed in Georgia, Arizona, and Florida, and they’re moving forward in other states.
These laws were passed after the violent attack on the U.S Capitol to attempt to overturn the certification of the presidential election on January 6, which makes their purpose all the more real and frightening. The measures are a response to the local and state election officials who resisted pressure from President Trump and his allies to throw out the vote count in the period after the election, and in the case of Georgia, President Trump’s personal request to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” him 11,780 votes.
Following the lead of Georgia, Arizona, and Florida, in Texas, Republicans are on the verge of passing an anti-voter package that would reduce early voting opportunities, ban drive-through voting, and create onerous restrictions for those voting by mail. Even more troubling, the legislation would enact election subversion measures that significantly expand the power of untrained, partisan poll watchers - one measure bars election officials from removing partisan poll watchers even if they violate election law - while creating unnecessary barriers and criminal penalties for people who assist voters.
To block passage of this anti-voter legislation, more than 50 Texas House Democrats courageously left the state last month, and they’ve spent several weeks in Washington, D.C. asking Congress to protect Texans’ freedom to vote. Last week, I joined the Texas House members and legislators from around the country in D.C. in solidarity. While I was there, I got a chance to talk with one of those Texas House leaders, Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, about their experience and the ongoing fight in Texas and across the country. Check out our Facebook Live conversation here.
Here in Minnesota…
We have a strong tradition of voter participation and voter turnout in Minnesota, but now are facing the same tidal wave of voter suppression efforts sweeping states across the country. The Republican Majority in the Senate made anti-voter measures their top policy priority this session, trying to impose both a photo ID law that Minnesotans overwhelmingly rejected in 2012 and a provisional balloting policy that would effectively end same day registration in Minnesota. House DFLers defeated these voter restriction policies.
If you’d like to learn more about this moment and what it means for Minnesota, you can listen to an interview I did with Audie Cornish on All Things Considered recently.
Supreme Court Ruling Weakens Voter Protections
In addition, the Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that can only be interpreted as hostile to voting rights and representative democracy. The long and short of it is that in the Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee ruling, the Court severely limited a powerful part of the Voting Rights Act that’s one of the few remaining tools to protect voters of color. The ruling guts Section 2, a provision that guarantees people of color an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. It’s been used to strike down voter suppression laws like Texas’s voter ID requirements and North Carolina’s laws that limited same day registration, early voting and pre-registration, and out-of-precinct voting, disproportionately harming Black voters.
Given the tidal wave of voter suppression laws we’re seeing flood state legislatures (including our own Minnesota Senate), the Brnovich ruling is a crushing blow, eviscerating the Voting Rights Act’s surviving tool and making it harder to win a federal challenge to the voter restrictions several states have passed in the wake of the 2020 election.
What We Can Do to Protect and Strengthen the Freedom to Vote
Fight for Federal Legislation
As a voting rights lawyer, I’ve been on the frontlines of the fight for our democracy for more than a decade. One thing I’ve learned is that protecting our democracy requires action locally and nationally, both at the Capitol and in the streets. As a state legislator, I'm fighting for our democracy here in Minnesota and also using all the power I have to advocate for change nationwide. Last week, I joined more than 100 state legislators from across the country at our nation’s Capitol to urge Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The For the People Act, which the U.S. House already passed, would protect the freedom to vote and participate and create uniform federal voting standards that will mitigate many of the anti-voter restriction laws that have passed at the state level. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act restores provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and protects voters from laws that disproportionately impact people who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrants, young, or elderly.
Strengthen the Right to Vote in Minnesota
At this critical moment, the best way to defend our embattled democracy is to strengthen it and ensure Minnesotans of every race, zip code, generation, and political persuasion can participate. That’s why I introduced the Democracy for the People Act (HF 9) days after I was sworn in, following the insurrection at our nation’s Capitol. This legislation ensures people have the tools and support they need to cast their ballot, restores the freedom to vote to Minnesotans on probation or parole, reduces the power of corporations and wealthy individuals in our elections, empowers small donors and people-powered campaigns, and more!
My colleagues in the House and I worked hard to strengthen access to absentee voting this year, and we delivered resources local officials need to administer elections, invest in equipment, and further solidify absentee voting. I’ll keep advocating for the Democracy for the People Act and working with you to fight for robust, inclusive elections policy that puts Minnesotans, not big donors or wealthy special interests, at the center of our policy making.
How to Get Involved
It will take all of us doing everything in our power to protect the freedom to vote and strengthen our democracy. Your voice is important here, and here are a few steps you can take:
Where to Learn More
If you’d like to read more about efforts to defend and strengthen our democracy, here’s a few links to get you started:
I hope you enjoyed the first installment of this new issue series! I’d love to hear your feedback! Please keep an eye out for more information, and let me know if there’s any issues you’d like to see me highlight in the future.