Voting protection bill blocked in Senate as several states restrict voting rights

As negotiations continued over President Biden’s infrastructure and social spending plans, a stalemate in the Senate blocked a Democrat-backed voting protection bill this past week. This comes as several states are changing laws to limit access to polls, reduce mail-in voting and redraw congressional maps. Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of civil rights organization Advancement Project, joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I spoke with Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that focuses on social justice and voting rights issues.

    So, Judith, right now, we are at a time where voting rights are changing throughout the country in different ways, and we seem to have a Senate that doesn't want to take a look at this, doesn't want to debate this. So how do you move forward on a state by state basis?

  • Judith Browne Dianis:

    Well, what we're doing is we're suing everywhere.

    Remember, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County case back in 2013. They also dealt another blow to the Voting Rights Act just this past session. And so it's made it harder for us to prove discrimination in court. But we're still in this. We're still fighting using what's left of the Voting Rights Act and using the Constitution. But it would make it much easier if the Senate would move to restore the Voting Rights Act with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and by passing the Freedom to Vote Act, which would give us standards for how we run elections across the country.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What to you is at stake at the core of all this?

  • Judith Browne Dianis:

    I don't think I'm being alarmist to say that our democracy is in peril right now. Not only have we seen the weakening of voting rights laws, we saw an insurrection on January 6. We have seen an upbeat in issues and lies about the elections and the outcome of our elections, which has called into question the integrity of our elections with audits and lawsuits, etc. And we know that it's not just about the elections, but redistricting is upon us and states are starting to move. And what we're seeing, even if you look at the state of Texas, which always has a problem with redistricting, what we have seen is that the Latino population has grown tremendously by about two million people, but they are not going to see an increase in their power, their political power. And so that means that we're going to be a majority people of color in this country at some point, but we will not be able to exercise our power in ways that mirrors our numbers.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Beyond the specific groups that might be in the crosshairs of those who are trying to decrease access to the polls, why does this series of challenges on state level matter to all voters?

  • Judith Browne Dianis:

    Well, it should matter because, you know, our country is only going to be at its best if we all have a say in choosing the people who represent us so that our interests can be met. Whether we live in low income neighborhoods or we live in rich neighborhoods, whether or not we have concerns about policing or child care. Right now what we are seeing across the country is a power grab that is disadvantaging many communities so that they will continue to be on the losing side of elections and making their voices silenced.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are the issues that you find most threatening when you look across the landscape, across the country and all of these different rules that are working their way through legislatures?

  • Judith Browne Dianis:

    In Georgia, where Advancement Project has litigation, there's a provision in that law that allows for the state to remove local election officials if they think they're not doing their job. And so you could imagine that if the call comes from a president who says that he's looking for 11,000 votes, that in fact what could happen is that the state could remove the person who said, I'm not going to look for 11,000 votes because there is integrity in our election and I ran the election well, that they could remove that person. And so I am very concerned about that, along with all of the barriers that have been put in our way. These barriers to the ballot box are disconcerting.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Judith Browne Dianis:

    Thank you.

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