In Philadelphia speech, President calls for concerted effort to fight assaults on voting rights

In Philadelphia speech, President calls for concerted effort to fight assaults on voting rights

- in Defending Democracy, News, Top Story
President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on Tuesday, 7/13/21 (MSNBC Screen Capture)

Biden refutes continuing GOP conspiracy claims: “The big lie is just that, a big lie”

By Nick Field, Stephen Caruso and Marley Paris of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star

PHILADELPHIAReturning to the state that handed him the White House, President Joe Biden made a passionate plea Tuesday for Americans to rise up and protect their voting rights from a series of restrictive measures pushed by Republicans in Washington and in state capitols nationwide.

“It’s up to all of us to protect that right – it is the test of our time,” Biden said during his appearance at the National Constitution Center, where he was joined by such political allies as Gov. Tom Wolf and civil rights advocates such as the Rev. Al Sharpton.

In a brief, but fiery, address, Biden cited three major threats to Americans’ right to vote, saying the nation faced the most dire threat to its democracy since the Civil War.

“That’s not hyperbole. Since the Civil War — the Confederates never breached the Capitol as the insurrectionists did on Jan. 6,” Biden said. “I’m not saying this to alarm you, I’m saying it because you should be alarmed.”

The first is the wave of measures from Republican state legislators that would undermine voters rights to have their ballot cast and counted. The second is the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, weakening the Voting Rights Act. The third is the effort by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans to question the results of the 2020 election, which sparked the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“The big lie is just that — a big lie” Biden said of the movement to deny the 2020 results.

“In America, if you lose, you accept the results. You follow the Constitution. You try again. You don’t call facts ‘fake’ just because you’re unhappy,” he said.

To counter these three major threats, Biden called for the enactment of two, sweeping pieces of legislation: the “For the People Act” as well as the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

The former would “help end voter suppression in the states, get dark money out of politics, give voice to the people at the grassroots level, create fair district maps and end partisan gerrymandering,” he explained. “We must pass the For the People Act. It’s a national imperative. We must also fight for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore and expand voting protections to protect [against] voter suppression.”

In addition to this legislative approach, Biden also noted that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will challenge these new Republican efforts in the courts.

“The 21st century Jim Crow is real. It’s unrelenting. And we’re going to challenge it vigorously,” the president pledged.

Biden called for a coalition of “advocates, students, faith leaders, labor leaders and business executives” to fight back against this assault.

While never explicitly mentioning his predecessor, the president pointedly proclaimed that he was sworn to fight both foreign and domestic threats.

“Make no mistake, bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies, are threatening the very foundation of our country,” Biden cautioned.

In Pennsylvania — a swing state with split control of state government — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf recently vetoed a GOP bill that would have increased voter verification requirements, including expanding when voters have to show identification, and mandating signature verification for mail-in ballots.

The bill also would have moved back the deadline to request a mail-in ballot by eight days, restricted ballot drop-off boxes, and given counties time to process mailed ballots before Election Day.

Republicans, many of whom signed the December letter to Congress objecting to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College results, said the bill would have increased faith in state election results.

Research on voter identification laws, however, hasn’t found that such statutes increase voters’ trust in elections.

Republicans in North Carolina are also pursuing “election integrity” legislation.

“Because public attitudes on voter fraud are unaffected by the stringency of a voter ID law, such laws cannot be justified on that basis,” a 2016 Stanford University study concluded.

As NC Policy Watch reported last month, Republicans in North Carolina are also pursuing “election integrity” legislation despite their success in the 2020 election.

Senate Bill 326 would make 5:00 pm on Election Day the final deadline for the receipt of mailed ballots during any statewide primary, general election and county bond elections. Lawmakers extended the deadline last year by three days for ballots postmarked by Election Day — a number that was later extended to nine in response to a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups.

Senate Bill 724 would, among other things, create a program that would help facilitate the enforcement of a state voter ID requirement.

Senate Bill 725 would ban the state and county boards of elections and the county boards of commissioners from accepting private donations to help underwrite the cost of election administration.

Democrats and civil rights groups have criticized the bills — all three of which were approved by the Senate in June and now reside in the House Rules Committee.

Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek and Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield contributed to this story.