The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Right To Vote

As I write this, civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis is being laid to rest in Atlanta, Georgia. Lewis fought his whole life for the African Americans’ right to vote. “In March 1965, a 25-year-old Lewis, then chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, led hundreds of protesters on a march…to draw attention to the need for voting rights for African Americans across the South.”[1] Fifty-five years later, that fight is still being waged.

The Selma to Montgomery march that Lewis led was instrumental in passing the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013, however, the Supreme Court’s landmark Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted critical elements of the 1965 Act, thus allowing states to enact discriminatory voting laws.

Last December, the House passed a bill that would restore those vital sections of the law. And this week the House honored Lewis by renaming that bill the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.[2] But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked the Senate from considering the bill.[3]

In May, the Democratic-led House passed a coronavirus relief act that included $3.6 billion to bolster 2020 election security during the pandemic. Once again, McConnell rejected the measure. He and his Republican colleagues don’t seem to care about securing Americans’ right to vote. Their latest relief proposal doesn’t include one penny to protect this November’s election, despite Trump’s predictions of massive election fraud.

Still, McConnell had the gall to stand before Lewis’s casket and proclaim, “History only bent toward what’s right because people like John paid the price.”[4] McConnell knows it’s right to restore voting rights and fund election security, but he’d rather protect his Senate Republican majority than the people’s right to vote.

There’s no question that the pandemic will make this year’s election more difficult. While a great number of people will want to avoid the polls and vote by mail, many states as well as the federal government have not taken any steps to accommodate them. Some states even greatly increased the problem in their primary elections by significantly reducing the number of polling places.

In McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, for example, officials reduced the number of polling places outrageously from 3,700 to fewer than 200.[5] With Republicans in charge in a plurality of states, their strategy seems to be to limit the number of actual voters, particularly African Americans, to increase their chances of winning.

So, what can we do? Since Republicans only play hardball, we need to convince Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats that they must play hardball as well. Call Speaker Pelosi and your Democratic Congresspeople ( 202-224-3121) and urge them to make the $3.6 billion for election protection in their relief bill non-negotiable. Tell them that the right to vote is sacred and they must force McConnell to bring the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to the floor for a vote. Tell them they owe it to the legacy of John Lewis.

The future of our democracy depends on all Americans being able to cast their ballots and every vote being counted.  We can’t afford to lose this fight. Pass this blog on to your friends and colleagues. Urge them to call as well.

Also, contact one of these organizations to learn how else you can help protect our elections and save our democracy:

Bruce Berlin

With editing by Margaret Lubalin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See, the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at

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