IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber and Tom Steyer Republican vote suppression is a 2020 scandal. Georgia's primary proved it.

While Georgia state officials blamed local poll workers, voting rights advocates saw a continued pattern of voter suppression. It is a pattern Republicans seem determined to reproduce.
Image: Five States Hold Primaries As Pandemic Continues In America
People wait in line to vote in Georgia's primary election in Atlanta on June 9, 2020.Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images

Last week, as historic protests for racial justice grabbed the nation's attention, voters in some of Georgia's predominantly Black and poor precincts reported chaos, long lines and faulty machines at their polling places. While state officials blamed local poll workers, voting rights advocates saw a continued pattern of voter suppression by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. It is a pattern Republicans seem determined to reproduce.

Next week, voters head to the polls again, including in New York and Kentucky. The fight continues.

After Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California will mail absentee ballots to all registered voters this fall as a means of guaranteeing the right to vote during the coronavirus pandemic, the Republican National Committee sued, claiming that California's effort to protect voting rights opened the door to widespread fraud.

Next week, voters head to the polls again, including in New York and Kentucky. The fight continues. Though voter suppression has been a quiet tool of Republican administrations for decades, opposition to an expansion of the franchise has become a clear talking point for the Republican Party in 2020. This assault on the franchise is an attack on the very idea of American democracy and its promise of equality for all.

Before the pandemic struck, during a time of uninterrupted economic growth, America still failed to provide resources or opportunities for poor people in our country. There is only one answer to why the wealthiest nation in the world can't provide for its most vulnerable: We have decided not to do it. The intentionality of our inequities can't be ignored. We have consistently and continually chosen to concentrate our toxic waste and runoff in Black and brown communities, to redline neighborhoods and to put entry to higher education out of reach for many and then made that the litmus test for success.

Amid a global pandemic that is both remaking our society and exposing this inequality, November is a historic opportunity to right these wrongs. But it may not happen if we deny the right to vote for millions of Americans.

The fact that COVID-19's death rate is much higher in low-income Black, brown and indigenous communities exposes how, at every intersection of society, government and people's lives, there are inequity and injustice. We will reshape parts of our world after this pandemic — that's inevitable. But from health care to food systems, we must consider not just who is hurting right now but also who's been hurting all along. This is a reality that an unprecedented wave of protests in America's streets seeks to expose. Systemic racism did not only kill George Floyd. It is choking the life out of our democracy.

People and institutions invested in the status quo want to prevent voters from upending the systems. And one big way to do this is by denying them the right to vote. We've seen this pattern for decades, and now President Donald Trump and his enablers in the GOP have gone further, condemning states for transitioning to voting by mail and threatening to cut off their aid if they pursue broader democracy.

He knows that if young people, people of color and poor people turn out to vote in record numbers, he and his party can't maintain power. In 2016, Trump lost every subset of voters who make less than $50,000, across categories of race, political ideology and education level. The greatest fear of this president and his enablers is that the millions of poor and low-income voters — Black, white and brown — who didn't vote in 2016 will turn out for transformative change in 2020.

That is why this election and your vote have never been so important, and it is why an unprecedented coalition of national and grassroots justice organizations is uniting Saturday for a Mass Poor People's Assembly and Moral March on Washington.

The leaders we elect this fall will not only lead in rebuilding our nation; they will also reshape what our nation looks like.

The leaders we elect this fall will not only lead in rebuilding our nation; they will also reshape what our nation looks like and determine whether we finally choose to take care of our poor communities across the country. In America today, kids go to bed hungry, families ration medicine and ZIP codes determine access to clean water, good schools and reliable internet. We can change that, and we must.

Lilla Watson's words about the movement to justice ring especially true now: "If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

Our liberation as a nation is intimately connected to the long-term injustices in our country. We cannot fulfill our democracy until we commit to an unfettered access to the right to vote for every citizen. Only then can we ensure that the pain of this health crisis, economic devastation and uprising against racial injustice will not have been in vain. Only by protecting the right to vote can we lay the foundation for a better, more equitable, just and more resilient America.