"Clueless and depressing" was how one voting rights expert described the Democratic National Committee's Thursday announcement of a new $25 million plan to invest in get-out-the-vote efforts ahead of the 2022 midterm elections—an effort that critics said the Biden administration appeared to be treating as an alternative to passing voting rights legislation like the For the People Act.
The "I Will Vote" plan, unveiled by Vice President Kamala Harris at Howard University, conveyed little understanding of the fact that "we stand at an inflection point about whether we can be a multiracial democracy or not," said Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program, who highlighted the Republican Party's concerted voter suppression efforts across the country.
"There is a faction within the White House that thinks the best way to respond to voter suppression laws is not to fix the laws, but to get big donors to fund a giant GOTV operation."
—Ryan Grim, The Intercept
According to the Brennan Center, 17 states have enacted 28 new laws restricting voting rights so far this year, with dozens more expected to pass in Republican-led legislatures. Newly passed laws include bans on curbside voting, restrictions on absentee voting, termination of Election Day registration in Montana, and purges of voter rolls—voter suppression tactics which won't be countered by encouraging Democratic voters to show up at the polls, Li and other critics said.
Last month, the White House enlisted the help of Silicon Valley executive Reid Harrison, who hosted a virtual fundraiser for the DNC's initiative.
"There is a faction within the White House that thinks the best way to respond to voter suppression laws is not to fix the laws, but to get big donors to fund a giant GOTV operation," said Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Intercept.
Engaging with voters is "all fine and good," added Grim, "But if you do that instead of passing a voting rights law, what you're saying is that the GOP was right, that it was never about democracy reform or voting rights, it was only about winning."
The $25 million investment by the Democratic National Committee will go toward digital and TV ads explaining how to register to vote, social media partnerships to highlight the accomplishments of President Joe Biden and the Democrats, and technology to identify and contact voters affected by voter suppression laws—none of which will help the party to overcome the GOP's redistricting efforts, which the Brennan Center says are rampant across the South.
"Just consider gerrymandering, which could determine control of the House for a decade," tweeted Li from his personal account. "Hard to 'organize' out of that."
In an analysis he authored in February, Li said seven states—Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama—are at high or very high risk for partisan gerrymandering, which the For the People Act would ban as well as strengthening voting protections in communities of color.
"I would have [the Biden administration] de-emphasize the infrastructure bill to prioritize voting rights," said Li. "But since that doesn't seem likely, they could be more engaged on legislation instead of just making anodyne statements. And stop pretending that organizing is a substitute."
Other progressives echoed Li and Grim's concerns on social media, calling on the White House to focus on pushing to abolish the filibuster, passing the For the People Act, and restoring the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, a key part of which was rendered inoperable in the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County vs. Holder.
Both Biden and Harris have expressed support for the For the People Act, but the White House's push to pass the legislation has paled in comparison to efforts to generate public support and reach a deal on Biden's infrastructure proposal.
"Why stump for roads and bridges but not democracy?" said Ezra Levin, co-founder of Indivisible. "Both require 50 votes. If the bully pulpit works on infrastructure, why not democracy?"
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Julia Conley.