‘Time is running out’: can Congress pass a voting rights bill after months of failure? | Sam Levine/The Guardian
For years, Helen Butler has been on a mission to increase voter turnout, especially among Black voters, in Georgia and across the south. She’s used to the skepticism. People she meets wonder why they should bother, because their vote won’t matter. No matter who’s in office, longstanding problems won’t get solved. More recently, she’s pushed back on efforts by Georgia Republicans to make it harder to vote. She’s seen things like overly aggressive efforts to remove people from the voter rolls and the rapid consolidation of polling places. Last year, she listened as Joe Biden promised he would protect the right to vote if he was elected president. “One thing the Senate and the president can do right away is pass the bill to restore the Voting Rights Act … it’s one of the first things I’ll do as president if elected. We can’t let the fundamental right to vote be denied,” he said in July last year. Months later, Butler and other organizers had a breakthrough that had been years in the making. After years of investing in voter mobilization, turnout among Black voters surged in the November election, helping Joe Biden win a state long seen as a Republican stronghold. In January, Black voters came out again and helped Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win two upset Senate bids, giving Democrats control of the US Senate. On the night he was elected president, Biden called out the Black voters who helped him capture the presidency, saying: “When this campaign was at its lowest – the African American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.” And so, after Biden was inaugurated, Butler and many others expected that voting rights would be one of the first things the president and Democrats addressed. Instead, during the president’s first year in office, Butler has watched with dismay as Biden and Democrats have failed to pass any voting rights legislation. Meanwhile, Republicans in Georgia passed sweeping new voting restrictions, one of several places across the country that made it harder to vote.