On June 11, University of Baltimore School of Law Prof. Gilda R. Daniels testified before the Elections Subcommittee of the House Committee on House Administration. The theme of the hearing was how to ensure free and fair access to the ballot for all Americans.
Daniels, who is also litigation director for the Advancement Project National Office, served as deputy chief in the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Section, during the Clinton and Bush administrations. She is the author of Uncounted: The Crisis of Voter Suppression in America, published in 2020.
Daniels began her written testimony by describing how the coronavirus pandemic led to expanded voting opportunities in the 2020 election, such as mail-in balloting, early and Sunday voting, and drop-box ballot collection. Voter turnout indeed increased, and voted fraud was virtually nonexistent, even after exhaustive investigation of allegations.
While voting rights advocates were hopeful that this experience would lead to expanded ballot access moving forward, the opposite has happened, especially in majority Republican states. Baseless allegations of fraud, Daniels wrote her in testimony, “have been used to fuel a tsunami of anti-voting legislation meant to roll back not only the gains made in the 2020 election but those made in the last few decades.” She argued for “federal legislation that protects the right to vote.”
In her written testimony, Daniels provided a history lesson on voter suppression and federal government efforts to expand voting rights. The 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder “eliminated preemptive federal protections under the Voting Rights Act” of 1965. And sure enough, following that decision some states implemented voting restrictions such as voter ID, which disproportionately impacted people of color. Daniels thoroughly documented numerous examples of contemporary voter suppression in her testimony, as well as litigation efforts to combat these restrictions.
In her conclusion, Daniels argued that federal legislation is needed to dampen voter suppression practices — such as reassigning precincts without notifying voters — at the state level. Expanded early voting, voting by mail, and drop-box return options all expand voting access, she wrote. “Congress must address the lack of uniformity in the myriad of ways to cast a ballot, and ensure that uniform methods are set and enforced,” she wrote.
Daniels also urged the committee to make voter registration easier. And finally, she wrote,
“Congress must adopt an explicit right to vote in the Constitution. Without an affirmative right to vote,” she said, “states will continue to pass legislation that disenfranchises communities of color.” She said states should not be allowed to use baseless claims of voter fraud to justify a voter suppression strategy, and should instead be required to prove the existence of such fraud.
“In a democracy … the right to vote is central and elections must be conducted fairly,” she wrote. “Only after we achieve these goals will we have a true democracy and experience a more perfect union.”