By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
MANCHESTER — The U.S. Senate’s filibuster provision needs to end in order to protect voting rights and with it democracy, a group of speakers urged at a press conference Monday.
Union members, college students, and civil rights, environmental and progressive activists urged the U.S. Senate to pass the For the People Act or HR1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act saying both are needed to protect Democracy.
“Granite Staters are united. You should have the freedom to vote and have that vote matter,” said Liz Tentarelli, president, League of Women Voters New Hampshire, “and you should have a government free from special interests’ influence and free from dark money.”
Speakers also focused on the Senate filibuster which requires 60 votes to override and prevents many pieces of legislation from an up or down vote.
Tentarelli and others lamented the attempts in New Hampshire and across the country to make it more difficult to vote for many groups such as the disabled, college students and non-whites.
Ronelle Tshiela, a UNH law student and Black Lives Matter Manchester Co-founder, noted a recent state Supreme Court decision ruling Senate Bill 3 unconstitutional, as it makes it more difficult for some to vote while not applying the same restrictions on others.
“Senate Bill 3 disenfranchises voters, especially college students,” Tshiela said, “yet representatives in the legislature continue to push language that is confusing and directed at college students. The attack on voting is not slowing down.”
Glenn Brackett, president, NH AFL-CIO, said the filibuster needs to end in order to both pass the voting rights bill and other legislation that is union and working-family friendly.
He called the filibuster a “ridiculous, arcane Senate rule” that needs to end to save democracy and put the government in the hands of working families again.
“We need the people to be represented in Washington, not the special interests,” Brackett said. “In New Hampshire we have an understanding of what democracy means, we approve town budgets, and have one of the largest legislatures in the world.”
He said many good bills for working families are caught behind the filibuster in the U.S. Senate.
“We need to defend democracy across the country by passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” Brackett said, “and end this ridiculous filibuster log jam.”
U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-NH, said there is hope for a compromise in the Senate on the For the People Act leading to a possible vote later this week.
“The resolution would guarantee free and fair elections and get the undue influence of big special interest money out of our electoral system once and for all,” Pappas said. “The power in our government is derived from we the people, it’s not we the lobbyists, it’s not we the super PAC, it’s not we the corporation, it’s we the people.”
He said the two resolutions will allow the voices of average Americans to be heard by making it easier to vote, and to end gerrymandering which allows politicians to pick their voters and not voters to pick their politicians.
“It’s about time the voices of everyday Americans were front and center in Washington and in state houses across this country,” Pappas said, “so that truly this is a government of, by and for the people.”
He said changes made for the last election during the COVID-19 pandemic made it easier for people to vote from the safety of their own homes, and the two resolutions would continue many of the changes that allowed that to happen.
“It should not take a pandemic or a blizzard on town meeting day,” he said, “we should be making voting easier in New Hampshire and across the country, not harder.”
The voting restrictions are driven by dangerous conspiracy theories like the “big lie” that President Biden did not win the 2020 election, he said, and similar ones in New Hampshire about bused-in college students.
Zandra Rice Hawkins, Executive Director, Granite State Progress, said reproductive rights are under attack in New Hampshire and across the country driven by powerful interests that do not want to see a full, multicultural democracy.
The public does not stand with them, and that is why they do not want free and fair elections, she said.
Bow High School student Katie Lessard spoke of the need to address climate change and the environmental impact the Bow coal-burning, power plant has on people in her community and the environment
But she said powerful special interests have their way and the power plant continues to operate, the last coal-fired generating plant in New England.
Lessard said that is another reason voting rights are important.
Grace Kindeke, co-director of the American Friends Service NH, said despite voting advancements of the past, new barriers to voting means the “country continues to spiral backward.”
Recent laws in New Hampshire and around the country are making it more difficult to vote for some groups like the disabled, and people of color to prevent them from fully participating in the electoral process, she said.
“We must act to protect our multicultural society against these voter suppression schemes,” Kindeke said, noting a letter in support of the two acts signed by 90 of the state’s faith-leaders will be delivered later this week.
The For the People Act has been approved by the U.S. House but stalled in the U.S. Senate due to a filibuster threat.
While Democrats have largely supported the measure and the new voting rights act, Republicans have not.
The For the People Act has also been criticized by New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner who has said it would upend the state’s current election system by requiring such things as two weeks of voting, which would be problematic.
The U.S. Senate may vote this week on an amended act that addresses some of the concerns raised by opponents.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.