For those readers of The Weekly Issue/El Semanario who have voted in the past and plan to vote in the future, we urge you to review “H.R.1—For the People Act” currently winding its way through the U.S. Congress. This is a voting rights bill, an impressive, extensive Congressional Act to promote access to voting for all. It was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 4, 2021, sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, passing the U.S. House of Representatives on March 3, 2021. It was forwarded to and received by the U.S. Senate on March 1, 2021, where it currently awaits its fate. To view it in its entirety, see Text – H.R.1 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): For the People Act of 2021 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress
The “For the People Act” is especially thorough, comprehensive, and detailed. There are numerous “Sections,” divided into a variety of “Titles,” partitioned into a myriad of “Subtitles,” with major topics outlined into exquisite detail. For example, Section 307 covers “Promoting Ability of Voters to Vote by Mail.” The first topic under the Section title is “(a) Uniform Availability of Absentee Voting To All Voters.” Following numerous other outlined topics is “(d) Accessibility for Individuals with Disabilities.” The ruling is as follows:
This political war, including the outcome of “H.R.1—For the People Act,” will determine whether racial and ethnic minorities will have their right to vote preserved, or not.
The State shall ensure that all absentee ballot applications, absentee ballots, and related voting materials in elections for Federal office are accessible to individuals with disabilities in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including with privacy and independence) as for other voters.
Following this statement are further safeguards to ensure “individuals with disabilities” have access to voting including “(f) Alternative Methods of Returning Ballots” for those who are not able to physically return a ballot to a voting booth on the date of an election, followed by “(f) (2) Permitting Voters to Designate Other Person To Return Ballot.”
We at The Weekly Issue El Semanario give this one example of the exhaustive depth and breadth and scope of “H.R.1 For the People Act” to stress our major interpretation: This Act ensures as wide participation as possible of our U.S. society to vote in all elections, from the most localized election to that of the President of the U.S. We applaud this Act and encourage its widest possible support. We hope it will be voted on positively by the U.S. Senate, albeit we hold some grave misgivings about that possibility.
While our interests and aspirations for the U.S. society are as extensive as those of our media colleagues, we at The Weekly Issue/El Semanario are particularly drawn to the needs and petitions of racial and ethnic minorities, especially Latinos. This is one area for which “H.R.1 For the People Act” truly shines since it has numerous significant legal methods to ensure Latinos and other marginalized groups have not only the right to vote, but strong, robust access and assurances to vote.
A statement in “Section 3. Findings of General Constitutional Authority” demonstrates these assurances for racial and ethnic minority communities:
#1: (4) (A) Congress also finds that it has authority to legislate to eliminate racial discrimination in voting and the democratic process pursuant to both section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants equal protection of the laws, and section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment, which explicitly bars denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
(B) Congress finds that racial discrimination in access to voting and the political process persists.
This statement crucially places our voting rights within our Constitutional rights in the 14th and 15th Amendments. It unequivocally states in Sec. 3: #1: (4) (B), “racial discrimination in access to voting and the political process persists” to this day. The following item, (C), gives a litany of methods used to keep us from voting, including “minority communities wait longer in lines to vote, are more likely to have their mail ballots rejected…, [and] are more likely to be disenfranchised by voter purges….” This passage concludes with, “Research shows that communities of color are more likely to face nearly every barrier to voting than their white counterparts.” The following item, (D), concerns “racial disparities in disenfranchisement due to past felony convictions,” referring to African Americans at “a rate 3.7 times greater than that of non-African Americans,” and, “Congress finds that felony disenfranchisement was one of the tools of intentional racial discrimination during the Jim Crow era,” with current such disenfranchisement “linked to this history of voter suppression [and] structural racism in the criminal justice system.”
Protection for language minorities is a central issue for several racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., including but not limited to Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. “Section 1904: (4) Language Accessibility” protects voting rights for such voters, referencing the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, section 203; “For the People Act” states that in a covered State or political subdivision under section 203 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (52 U.S.C. 10503), that State or political subdivision shall provide absentee or mail-in voting materials with respect to an election for Federal office in the language of the applicable minority group… bilingual election voting assistance, and written translations of all voting materials in the language of the applicable minority group….
A final example for this article is the protection for Native Americans, in “Section 1904: Accommodations for Voters Residing in Indian Lands,” with item (1) entitled, “Designation of Ballot Pickup and Collection Locations.” As this item states, “Given the widespread lack of residential mail delivery in Indian Country, an Indian Tribe may designate buildings as ballot pickup and collection locations with respect to an election for Federal office at no cost to the Indian Tribe…The applicable State or political subdivision shall collect ballots from those locations…”
The voting rights protections afforded racial and ethnic minorities by this Act, would ensure our participation in the electoral process. We realize there are efforts in such states as Texas and Arizona, among many others, to limit our votes. For example, Texas is currently in a political showdown between the Republican Governor Abbott and his Republican legislative majority against the Democratic minority representatives, over voting restrictions introduced by Republicans. A large cohort of Democratic legislators fled the state to deny Republicans a quorum in an effort to prevent the voting restrictions from becoming law. This led to “the Texas house speaker, Dade Phelan, this week signed 52 civil arrest warrants for the absent Democrats, who have given no indication that they plan to return to Austin anytime soon” (The Guardian, August 12, 2021). This political war, including the outcome of “H.R.1—For the People Act,” will determine whether racial and ethnic minorities will have their right to vote preserved, or not. Has American democracy withered to the point that those historically marginalized will not only be further sidelined, but banished? All in favor? All opposed?
Luis Torres, Ph.D.
Luis Torres, Ph.D. is a member of The Weekly Issue/El Semanario Advisory Board.
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