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Virginia, Georgia lawmakers introduce bills to protect American voting rights

Rebecca Barnabi
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Today marked the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

And today Congresswomen Jennifer McClellan of Virginia and Nikema Williams of Georgia introduced a package of eight bills to safeguard voting rights and protect American democracy.

“I grew up on the stories of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, who lived in the segregated South during Jim Crow. They faced blatant voting discrimination and had to overcome tremendous obstacles to exercise their fundamental right to vote. Their experiences served as a driving force in my commitment to protect and expand voting rights for every American, both in the Virginia General Assembly and now in Congress,” McClellan said. “As Congressman Lewis said, ‘Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.’ As we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, I am proud to join Congresswoman Williams to answer the late John Lewis’s charge and introduce this comprehensive set of voting rights bills. While conservative lawmakers and state legislatures seek to further restrict voting rights, congressional Democrats are fighting to protect and expand access to the ballot box, because your vote is your power.”

The slate of bills aims to protect and expand access to the ballot box and strengthen the nation’s physical and human election infrastructure. They include:

  1. Expanding the VOTE Act: (passed the Judiciary Committee via bipartisan markup in 117th Congress) This bill gives jurisdictions the resources to provide more translations of election materials and ensure everyone, regardless of their level of English language proficiency, can equitably participate in our democracy.
  2. Sustaining Our Democracy Act: This provides grant funding for states and local jurisdictions to improve and innovate their election administration procedures.
  3. Voters on the Move Registration Act (included in Freedom to Vote Act): This provides voters with information on how to register to vote and their voting rights under law as they move residences.
  4. Unhoused Voter Opportunity Through Elections (VOTE) Act: This provides protections and minimum standards for accessibility to voting for unhoused people, and provides resources for efforts to expand access to the ballot for unhoused people.
  5. Election Mail Act: This improves the delivery and processing of election mail by setting minimum standards and improving USPS processes.
  6. People Over Long Lines (POLL) Act: This sets minimum standards for how long people may wait in line to vote and provides resources to reduce voter wait times.
  7. Youth Voting Rights Act: This bill enforces the bipartisan-passed Twenty-Sixth Amendment and ensures eligible youth voters can access the ballot box.
  8. Time Off to Vote Act: This bill mandates that all workers receive protected time off in order to vote.

McClellan’s first bill was to make absentee voting easier in Virginia in 2006. In 2021, she introduced legislation which made Virginia the first state in the South with its own comprehensive voting rights act. Now in Congress, she serves on the Task Force on Strengthening Democracy.

“On August 28th, 1963, 250,000 Americans participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march took place 100 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery, and the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to provide formerly enslaved Americans with equal civil and legal rights. Despite those strides, African Americans in 1963 still faced immense social, political, and economic challenges, propagated by racially exploitative policies and long-standing systems of oppression,” McClellan said.

Thousands gathered this past weekend in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first March on Washington, during which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech to thousands.

“However, this weekend’s march was not simply a celebration of the progress we have made, but an acknowledgement of the work we must still accomplish,” McClellan said.

Black Americans and other historically marginalized communities continue to face challenges in 2023. Lack of access to health care, widespread efforts to disenfranchise voters and limit access to the ballot box, and a rise in physical violence spurred by social and racial prejudice are among the challenges.

“As a proud member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress, I will continue my efforts to ensure equal social, political, and economic opportunity for every American. We must continue striving toward a more perfect Union and to make Dr. King’s dream a reality for every American,” McClellan said.

 

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.