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SPLC Action Fund urges U.S. Senate to prioritize voting rights, election administration

In written testimony submitted to a U.S. Senate committee, the SPLC Action Fund this week offered policy recommendations to help expand voting rights and stem the enactment of “seemingly insurmountable barriers” to voting for many people in communities of color.

The testimony was submitted to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration as part of its March 28 hearing on “State and Local Perspectives on Election Administration.”

“The 2022 midterm elections were the most consequential in recent history, especially for [communities of color] hit hardest by the COVID pandemic and faced with, among other things, navigating high inflation, assaults on bodily autonomy, and challenges to educational inclusion,” the testimony says. “With so much at stake, it was critical that all voters across the nation could exercise their fundamental right to vote with limited restrictions.”

After the 2020 elections, which saw the highest turnout in over a century due to innovative voting procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many states reacted by enacting restrictive voting laws. In 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws to limit voting – the highest number in a decade.

“These restrictive laws had a measurable impact – stymieing the vote of Black voters in the South during the 2022 midterms,” the testimony says. “Voters in Georgia, for example, waited in line for over two hours to cast their vote – with the longest lines appearing in metro areas like metro Atlanta, which is majority non-white – in one of the most consequential races in the nation. In Alabama, absentee ballot restrictions that were loosened during the pandemic returned, and voters also expressed confusion over absentee affidavits that required them to declare party affiliation when voting absentee. And in several other southern states, voters were completely excluded from the right to vote because of a criminal conviction.”

The testimony cited a number of other restrictions and election administration problems across the South, including a Georgia law that prohibits handing out food and water to people waiting in line to vote.

“Based on the current voting rights landscape at the state and local level, Congress must act urgently to secure effective election administration in the Deep South. We must fortify our election process now to guarantee that the 2024 federal elections are carried out in a way that protects the fundamental right to vote for all.”

Specifically, the SPLC Action Fund urged Congress to:

  • Pass the Sustaining Our Democracy Act. This bill would provide $20 billion over the next decade to strengthen election administration – including expanding polling places, making upgrades to voter registration systems, and increasing access to voting for underserved communities and racial and language minority groups.
  • Press states to use innovative approaches for federal elections. “With states beginning to prepare for the 2024 elections, we urge Congress to provide financial and other support for states to think innovatively, building upon the successes of previous pandemic voting schemes, to ensure effective election ”
  • Encourage states to use third-party funding for election administration. “[D]ue to the significant underfunding of election infrastructure, more support is Private support for election administration was critical to the success of the 2020 election. We urge Congress to encourage states to reengage with this critical funding source to operate effective elections.”

Download the letter (PDF)

 

Picture at top: Voters arrive at a polling location to cast ballots in midterm elections on Nov. 8, 2022, in Atlanta. In written testimony to a Senate committee, the SPLC Action Fund outlined a number of restrictions and election administration problems across the South. (Credit: Megan Varner/Getty Images)