Protecting the will of “We the People”
The legitimacy of our democratic republic depends on the will of the people being heard. As the U.S. Supreme Court put it in the faithless elector case we prevailed in last term, under our Constitution, “We the People rule.” As we look back at the last election season as well as renewed efforts to cut back on the right to vote by certain state legislatures, it’s clear that this principle is under assault.
Efforts to undermine the right to vote are specifically targeted at communities of color. In a demonstration of this dynamic, consider that, as to the June 2020 primary election in Georgia, a study found that: “In polling places where minorities constituted more than 90 percent of active registered voters, the average minimum wait time in evenings was 51 minutes. But when whites constituted more than 90 percent of registered voters, the average was a mere six minutes.” On a national level, another study revealed that “voters in predominantly black neighborhoods waited 29 percent longer, on average, than those in white neighborhoods. They were also about 74 percent more likely to wait for more than half an hour.” These differences—in which such race-based disparities exist in the time spent standing in line to vote—are unacceptable. And it’s beyond question that long wait times deter people from voting.
In the 2020 general election, many states took a page from Colorado and our gold standard of elections, by using vote-at-home balloting. As a result, more Americans voted in 2020 than in a century. In Colorado, we honed this model, enabling safe, secure, and easy-to-use elections that allow all legal ballots to be cast. That’s why we have such high turnout. And, when irregularities do occur, it is quickly resolved and often due to non-intentional violations such the recent death of a voter or recent address change.
But despite the strength of Colorado’s voting system, even in the face of this track record, some in Colorado are seeking to undermine voter confidence and sow doubts in our system. To prevent such setbacks here or elsewhere, we need a national law based on Colorado’s approach. Fortunately, one is on deck before Congress— H.R. 1, The For The People Act. That’s why I recently joined a coalition of 21 state attorneys general to call on Congress to pass this bill.
At this time in our history, many proposed bills in a majority of state legislatures would undermine voter participation. To take just one example from Georgia, there are proposals to curb eligibility to vote by mail and prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes. One such bill would even block early voting on Sundays—a blatant effort to undermine efforts by Black churchgoers to cast their ballot before or after services.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case regarding Section 2 of the landmark Voting Rights Act that could undermine that law’s protections of voting. In that case, some are seeking to undermine the law’s protections—which were enacted on a bipartisan basis—by proposing a standard that would condone any practice that sounds acceptable on its face even if it suppressed the votes of certain groups in reality, such as the law proposed in Georgia to end Sunday early voting opportunities that would disparately affect African Americans. Such a change would allow the use of discriminatory practices, including ones we readily recognize would have discriminatory impacts, thereby gutting this important provision. Such a ruling would be a major step backwards, just like the Shelby County decision, which gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance procedure. That’s why we joined an 18 state attorney general coalition to defend this important provision.
In her Shelby County dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg criticized the majority decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance procedure, noting that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” That decision has contributed to efforts to suppress the vote of people of color. As one researcher noted, “since the court’s 2013 decision, nearly 1,700 polling places—many in black and Latino neighborhoods—have been shuttered.”
We are living at a time when our democratic institutions face challenges like never before. To address these challenges, our nation needs vigilance and a commitment to an equal opportunity to vote, coupled with safe, easy-to-use, secure voting, like we have here in Colorado. That is the path laid out in H.R. 1 and its voting rights protections. As Colorado’s attorney general, I will continue to do all I can to defend our most sacred democratic duty as citizens—voting.