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Texas And Vermont Congressmen Hold Forum On Voter Rights

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Congressman Peter Welch (file)

Since January, 48 states have introduced nearly 400 measures that would restrict the ability to vote. Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro and Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, both Democrats, are pressing for passage of the “For the People Act” and the “John Lewis Voting Rights Act” to protect voter rights. Welch and Castro recently held a virtual town hall to discuss what they see as voter suppression threats.
The “For the People Act of 2021,” or H.R.1, would “expand Americans' access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy.”
The “John Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2021,” or H.R.4, seeks to amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore criteria regarding voting rights violations.

While Democrats are hoping to establish new federal voting rights baselines, the bills face an unclear future in the Senate, where Democrats hold a razor-thin majority.

Welch recently cohosted the virtual forum “Your Vote is Your Voice.” The Congressman said right now many states are trying to use the force of law to deny access to the polls.  “If we start having limited access for folks in those states and other states to vote it doesn’t take much to flip what is the popular vote and the will of the people.”

Congressman Joaquin Castro joined Welch to cohost the forum on voter rights.  In early July Castro was among a dozen members of the Texas Congressional delegation who wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department to investigate voter suppression in Texas.  “Texas has some of the most restrictive voting laws already and the Republican legislature there is trying to make it even harder for folks to vote. They would do things like allow for poll watchers to be watching you as you vote. You could have the Proud Boys and others go stand there as poll watchers. It’s that kind of tactics of intimidation to try to keep people from voting.”

Castro added that another anti-voting strategy is gerrymandering districts.  “Severe gerrymandering in addition to this voter suppression that’s going on has thoroughly infected our democracy.”
Welch campaign spokesperson Natalie Silver read questions that had been posted online.  “This is from William and he asks: so many of the new restrictive laws seem to be written that they can only be challenged in the courts after the fact. Is there any way to challenge them prior to next election?”
Castro:  “That’s why passing this federal legislation is so important because it would require some of those proposals to be run by the federal government.”
Welch:  “Elections could be administered locally but when it comes to federal elections the Congress has the right to establish standards for folks who are qualified to vote.”

Silver said several people were concerned that the “For the People Act” won’t pass this summer. Several wondered if Democrats lose the 2022 midterms whether states would be able to override election results in 2024.  Congressman Castro said their worries are valid.   “If you lose the midterms as Democrats and Joe Biden gets re-elected for example in 2024 and now with a Republican Congress they refuse to certify the election and they want to vote to install a Republican president. And you know it’s one of those things where you want to be able to just dismiss it. But when you have an attempted coup at the United States Capitol and in the same night you have a lot of Republicans vote not to certify the election and the crazy just keeps getting crazier that’s a very in many ways shocking and sad thing to say. But it’s also something unfortunately that’s got to be on our radar.”


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