Congressional Action Needed: We Must Protect Voting Rights

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

We continue to stare down dangerous and overt threats to our democracy in the U.S. Congress must do more to ensure our most fundamental constitutional right to vote is secure, accessible, and easy to navigate for every single lawful American.

We should all be proud that New Mexico is setting a national example for what it looks like to enhance rather than attack participation in our democracy. In recent years, state and local elections officials in New Mexico have stepped up to make voting safer, more secure, and at the same time much more accessible for every New Mexican. And our state has seen greater participation in our elections as a result.

Unfortunately, we are seeing the polar opposite of this approach in the new voter suppression laws signed into law in recent months in states like Georgia and Texas that are right out of the pre-Voting Rights Act playbook of the Jim Crow South. These laws make it harder to register to vote, reduce early voting times and polling locations, and restrict access to vote-by-mail. In Georgia, it’s even illegal to hand out water to someone who has been standing in line for hours waiting to vote.

Over the last decade, we have seen how the Supreme Court wrongly equating money with speech in decisions like Citizens United resulted in unaccountable dark money flooding into our political system and allowing billionaires to drown out the voices of ordinary Americans with no accountability. This lack of transparency has also opened the door for dangerous disinformation campaigns.

To take on these mounting threats to our democracy, I was proud to support the For The People Act to modernize voter registration and elections systems so every American—no matter their race, their political party, or their zip code—could exercise their right to vote. The For The People Act would have also restored strong ethics and transparency rules and stop billionaires and corporations from being able to anonymously pour truckloads of cash into our elections.

Earlier this year, I was extremely disappointed when every single Senate Republican chose to use the filibuster to block us from even beginning debate on the For The People Act after it passed the House of Representatives. It’s clear that their refusal to protect Americans’ voting rights is being driven by their fear in the face of our former president’s lies and conspiracy theories about his own loss in the last election.

Former President Trump’s Big Lie about his loss in the 2020 Election continues to sow widespread and damaging distrust in our elections. It even fomented the mob of violent insurrectionists that stormed into the U.S. Capitol—the very heart of our democracy. I would argue that all of the distrust in our elections that has been ginned up by our former president is all the more reason for us to find a way forward on commonsense reforms that would restore all Americans’ faith in our elections and in our democracy. 

Although Republicans blocked us from taking up the comprehensive reforms in the For The People Act, I won’t give up on passing voting legislation. The Senate is poised to debate the Freedom to Vote Act to establish much-needed national standards to give fair access to our democracy to all Americans. I am also co-sponsoring and calling for immediate action on both the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the full protections of the original Voting Rights Act, and the Democracy For All Amendment, which would overturn Citizens United and help states rein in the out-of-control and unaccountable dark money that has poisoned our politics.

When I think about why this is so important, I remember my former colleague, whose office was right across the hall from me when I served in the House of Representatives, Congressman John Lewis. More than 50 years ago, he and so many others marched in Selma and put their lives on the line in Freedom Rides to call for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I strongly believe that today’s leaders have a responsibility to carry on the legacy of that generation by protecting our democracy and preserving our hard-won and constitutional right to vote.

If Congress doesn’t find a way to pass significant voting rights legislation, our failure will cast a long shadow. If we want to defend the promise of our Constitution, we simply cannot give up on passing voting rights and election reform legislation. Not when our democracy is what is on the line.