Guest Commentary by Joe Neguse: Voting Rights Can’t Wait

The following is an Op-ed, published in Daily Camera, by Congressman Joe Neguse. 

Congressman Joe Neguse

A few weeks after I was first elected to the U.S. Congress in November of 2018, I travelled to Washington D.C. for congressional orientation. Amidst the many panel presentations, policy discussions and introductions to my new colleagues, there was one experience that I will simply never forget — meeting civil rights hero, and my future colleague, John Lewis, for the very first time.

I didn’t fully appreciate how nervous I was to meet him until we shook hands. I couldn’t believe it — here he was, this incredible, courageous man, who had stood with Dr. King and literally bled on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to defend the civil rights of so many. As we greeted each other, I told him how honored I was to shake his hand, and how grateful I was for all that he had done to pave the way for someone like me to be able to serve in public office. I was taken aback when he said had heard of my election as Colorado’s first Black Congressperson and offered words of wisdom for my wife and I. As she can attest, I left the interaction both speechless and teary eyed.

That evening, now over two years ago, was the first of many occasions in which Congressman Lewis expressed the same admonition that he shared with so many others across the country — that the struggle for justice and equality continues, and requires participation from all of us. That the work to secure the right to vote, and to protect the civil rights of every American is not over. And that, as he once said, “the vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool that we have.”

Of course, he couldn’t have been more right. Voting is a sacred right, foundational to our democracy and to our Republic. It is a right that many people have died to secure and a right that civil rights leaders like Congressman Lewis were harassed, jailed and beaten to protect.

Unfortunately, it is a right that is once again under attack.

We see it in the laws being passed in Georgia, in Florida, and in Iowa. In state after state, and in the glaring absence of federal standards and enforcement, partisan legislatures are making it harder for those legally eligible to vote to do so.

Now more than ever, it is critical that we act boldly and that we push for change. We cannot stand by as the right to vote is stripped away.

That is why it is so critical for the Congress to pass H.R. 1, the For The People Act, and H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, both of which are crucial bills that will secure the right to vote for countless Americans. H.R. 1 would promote government transparency, strengthen access to the ballot box, secure election infrastructure and curb the influence of dark money in our politics, while H.R. 4 would restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act (Sections 4 and 5) that were effectively invalidated by the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. The latter bill would also provide the tools necessary to combat the discriminatory practices we are seeing throughout the nation and protect all Americans’ right to vote.

The House has already passed H.R. 1, and will no doubt pass H.R. 4 in the coming months. Both bills will then await a vote in the U.S. Senate, an institution that has become more dysfunctional by the day, increasingly incapable of addressing the consequential challenges that we face due to the obstinance and obstruction of a few. But the fact remains that when it comes to securing our constitutional rights, like our fundamental right to vote, the U.S. Senate must act. And if that means the body must adopt a carve-out or exemption to the filibuster to do so, then so be it.  We can call this exception the “John Lewis Rule,” in honor of a man who gave so much to secure voting rights for so many.

As Boulderites, and as Coloradans, we live in a state where local and state policymakers have led the way in creating a modern, secure, and convenient system for casting our votes. Now we must fight to ensure the same rights, and the same protections for Americans across the nation.

As Congressman Lewis said “Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation.” Ours must be a legacy of progress, of courage, and of action.

Congressman Joe Neguse represents Boulder in the United States Congress. This commentary has been published with permission. 

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