At a theatrical rally in Manhattan’s Battery Park, activists dressed in hospital gowns and mock Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer costumes to portray the dramatic “death” of democracy, and the subsequent resurrection of it, on Tuesday, Aug. 10.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and other elected officials were among the crowd, calling out the U.S Senate for stalling on passing the For the People Act.
The For the People Act is being heralded as legislation that would strengthen democracy by reversing “Jim Crow era” rules, protect the freedom to vote in disenfranchised communities, defend against gerrymandering, and support public campaign financing systems.
There is a larger concern over voter suppression laws interfering with people’s right to vote all across the country. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, during the 2021 legislative session, more than 400 bills to restrict voting access were introduced in 49 states.
In Georgia, for example, you can’t bring food or water to someone waiting in line to vote without breaking the law.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James, among other attorney generals, are dead set against these laws because they disproportionately impact low-income and rural communities as well as Black voters. “Georgia’s new voting law serves but one purpose —to continue generations of oppressive actions that disenfranchise the votes and voices of Black people,” said James in a statement.
Schumer managed to corral the Senate Democrats behind the For the People Act, but Senate Republicans didn’t support it at all.
The bill won’t be voted on again until the Senate resumes in September.
Michelle Ming, the Citizens Action of New York campaign manager for democracy, explained that the group wanted to send a powerful message about how democracy is “on life support” before the Senate recess, which started last week Friday and goes until September.
“The 2020 election was egregious and voter suppression happened then, but it’s been happening long before then. I would argue since the Jim Crow era people have always wanted to suppress the votes of non-white, non-male people in this country, and 2020 election cycle was a convenient time to do it in because of the pandemic,” said Ming.
Ming’s group demanded that Schumer and the Senate pass the For the People Act while states are in the midst of redistricting to avoid partisan gerrymandering, or when parties redraw district lines to favor their people.
“If you’re looking at a map and trying to figure out how to redraw lines every 10 years after census data comes out, how you draw the lines is where the problems come into play,” said Ming.
Ming said there are strips on a map in places like Texas that make little sense geographically, but upon closer inspection, show an overrepresentation of a party so that a favored candidate will have an easier time winning.
“It’s easy to forget that outside of New York City, there’s a lot of heavily Republican areas,” said Ming about New York State.
Ming said that public financing also needs to be kept in the bill in order to amplify small donors’ voices in elections.
Similarly, Assemblymember Yuh-line Niou agreed. “A simple principle is that if we preach about needing to lessen the influence of big money in politics, then we had better deliver on that when we have the chance,” said Niou in a statement.
“Passing the For the People Act levels the playing field so more women of color, like myself, can run for office,” said Assemblymember Latrice Walker in a statement. “The goal is to make running for office accessible and efficient, not unduly burdensome. We must make campaign finance accessible to all candidates who want to serve their communities.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Zellnor Y. Myrie has been leading the elections committee in a series of statewide hearings focused on improving the elections process as a result of the 2020 elections and the botched primaries this past June when the NYC Board of Elections gave out mis-tabulated primary results before they were certified.
The BOE’s missteps have prompted a huge call for election reforms in New York.
“In Brooklyn, Westchester, Syracuse and Rochester, voters have spoken loudly and clearly: our current system of elections is in desperate need of reform,” said Myrie in a statement. “In each hearing, we heard examples of voters who experienced difficulty exercising their rights and significant process failures at local board of elections.”
The committee holds open forums for voters, poll workers and others to document their experiences voting to generate ideas for improvements. The forums run through Sept. 21.
The Amsterdam News reached out to Schumer’s office for comment. No response by post time.
Ariama Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about City Hall and local politics for the AmNews Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting bit.ly/amnews1