For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Respect the Right to Vote

Martin Luther King Jr.’s heirs in family and advocacy want this year’s namesake holiday to be more than a memory of a past struggle. Amid a wide-ranging assault on American democracy, now is the time to listen to Martin Luther King III and his siblings and agitate, not celebrate, to improve access to the ballot box.

Washington has long been a national leader in access to the ballot, but this state is not alone. A ballot obstruction in Arizona or Alabama, or a crackdown on mail-in voting in Ohio, affects federal elections that impact the entire country. It is not enough to be able to register freely, vote from home and have confidence in fair electoral practices in Washington. These must be national rights.

Congress has the option to give every American equal access to the vote via blocked legislation in the US Senate. No rule of procedure or custom, including filibuster, should prevent reforms from strengthening American democracy. The John Lewis Voting Rights Bill and the Freedom to Vote Act would be important advances for US elections, and they deserve strong support. They would replace the hodgepodge of state ballot access laws now targeted by opportunistic legislatures to sway elections for partisan gain. The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice found that in 2021 alone, 19 states have passed 34 laws restrict access to elections. Federal laws are needed to nullify such undemocratic acts.

Proposed federal laws would spread early voting, mail-in voting and automatic voter registration nationwide, and restore Justice Department oversight of voting rules to prevent discrimination where it has already been observed. It is a sad commentary on the state of politics that the package was passed by the US House of Representatives. in a party line vote on Thursday. Opposition came from all Republican members, including Washington’s Dan Newhouse, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers – whose voters all enjoy the access to vote they voted to deny elsewhere.

The proposal’s prospects in the Senate are uncertain, despite fair support from the Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, Democrats. A generation ago, supporters of the MLK Jr. vacation faced a challenge to get them through the same legislative body, filled with a buccaneer in October 1983. Reason prevailed. Today, memories of King’s legacy should be tied directly to that burning political moment.

Election access inspired King’s famous march through Alabama, from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery. Before the march began in the “Bloody Sunday” attacks on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, only about 2% of eligible black voters in that city were registered to vote. King’s fearless plea to change this injustice and open up American democracy to all citizens resonates decades later. his moving Montgomery speech on voters’ rights.

All Americans deserve the fair, open, and fearless democracy advocated by King. Federal protection of this inalienable right should occur now.


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