Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Joyce Beatty is arrested in Senate office building by Capitol Police during a march demanding they pass: “For the People Act”
Police arrested Congressional Black Caucus chair Joyce Beatty on Thursday afternoon after she led pro-voting rights protesters into a Senate office building.
Officers moved in as Beatty, 71, and a handful of other activists, including Women’s March co-founders Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory, chanted, ‘Fight for justice,’ and, ‘End the filibuster.’
Capitol Police later said they had arrested nine people for ‘demonstrating in a prohibited area on Capitol Grounds
It comes as voting rights disputes divide the country between left and right: Republicans are devising tighter restrictions, with ID requirements and limited postal, while former President Trump continues to blame fraud for his defeat, while Democrats see an attempt to suppress turnout and make it harder for minorities to vote.
Beatty laid out her stance in a string of tweets before she was arrested.
‘Black women are demanding OUR right to vote! We’re marching to the Senate to send a strong message,’ she posted before setting off.
Then at 3:42pm she added: ‘We will not be turned around. We will keep walking.’
‘We will fight for freedom. We will fight for our right to vote!’
About 20 Black activists joined lawmakers for the protest.
Her office earlier said the event was in protest at new laws restricting voting across the country, as well as Republican refusal to consider drafting federal legislation to ensure equal rights and access to the ballot box.
‘Fifty-six years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Americans’ right to vote is still under attack as state legislatures work overtime to dilute our power,’ she said in a statement.
‘So, as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus – but more importantly as a Black woman – I join with the chorus of individuals demanding justice, change, and the guarantee that my vote counts just like everybody else’s vote counts.’
Last week President Joe Biden condemned attempts by Republican-controlled states to change voting laws, describing them as a ‘threat to democracy.’
‘This is election subversion,’ he said at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
‘It is the most dangerous threat to voting in the integrity of free and fair elections in our history.’
He urged Congress to pass the For the People Act, which bans partisan gerrymandering, makes voting easier and tries to make political donations more transparent.
But Democrats argue that the Senate filibuster – which requires at least a 60-vote majority – effectively ties their hands in passing legislation that would protect voting rights in the face of attacks by Republican states.
The nationwide split was highlighted this week when Texas Democrats fled the state to deprive Republicans of a quorum, halting progress of a bill they say would restrict voting.
Their secret flit prompted Governor Greg Abbott to accuse Biden of ‘spreading misinformation’ as he defended laws he said would expand early voting hours.
‘Biden has a pattern of spreading misinformation & he’s at it again today,’ he said in a tweet.
‘The [Texas Legislature] is passing a law that expands early voting hours & prevents mail-in ballot fraud. Texas is making it easier to vote & harder to cheat.
The Texas Senate bill would allow voting from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. – an increase of three hours on weekdays and 10 hours on Sundays – and would lower the population threshold from 100,000 to 30,000 for counties to open the polling booths for at least 12 hours in the week before Election Day.
Mail voters would also be asked to verify their identities with a state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number in a bid to get rid of signature verification that accounts for a higher number of rejected ballots.
The Texas state senate approved its version of the election reform bill on Tuesday, but the legislation then stalled because the absence of House Democrats meant the two-thirds quorum of of lawmakers could not be achieved.
The Texas Democrats say they will stay in Washington D.C. until the current session of the state legislature ends, while Abbott said he will keep calling sessions until the legislation passes.
That leaves a long hot summer of voting rights protests.
Among the organizers of Thursday’s protests were Tamika Mallory, founder of Unit Freedom, and Dr. Johnetta Cole, chair of the National Council of Negro Women.
Before entering the Hart Senate office building, LaTosha Brown, cofounder of Black Voters Matter, said it was wrong that a small group of people in the Senate could impose their will on voters.
‘Every day there are decisions being made in this place that are impacting our children, that are impacting our families, that are impacting our community, and you have a responsibility to stand for what it is you believe in,’ she told the Black News Channel.
In a statement on Thursday, Capitol Police said: ‘This afternoon, nine people were arrested for demonstrating in a prohibited area on Capitol Grounds.
‘At approximately 3:30pm, the United States Capitol Police responded to the Atrium in the Hart Senate Office Building for reports of illegal demonstration activity.
‘After officers arrived on the scene, they warned the demonstrators three times to stop. Those who refused were arrested for D.C. Code §22-1307.’
The demonstration was held two days before the one-year anniversary of the death of veteran civil rights campaigner Rep. John Lewis.
After her arrest, Beatty reprised one of his most famous expressions by tweeting simply ‘#goodtrouble.’
The voting rights battle across the US: Republicans and Democrats go head-to-head on way elections are run with new bills
Republicans and Democrats have gone to battle over how elections should be run at the state and federal level since the chaotic 2020 vote.
The Democrats are trying to pass the H.R.1 For The People Act, which expands voter registration, early voting, mail-in voting and introduces restrictions on campaign finance.
The GOP believes this would amount to a federal takeover of elections and has responded with a series of bills aimed at protecting voter integrity and security of elections at the state level.
In March, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called H.R.1 an ‘unparalleled political grab’ that would consolidate Democratic power.
Donald Trump has called the bill a ‘monster’ that cannot be allowed to pass and former vice president Mike Pence said it would ‘increase opportunities for election fraud, trample the First Amendment and further erode the confidence in our elections’.
In the legislation proposed and passed in GOP-controlled states including Texas, Wisconsin and Georgia, voters would have to provide a valid drivers license or the last four digits of their social security in order to cast their ballot.
Voters would also have to fill out paperwork if taking someone who is not a relative to vote in person. The regulations would also prevent election officials from sending mail-in ballots to voters who haven’t asked for them.
Republicans claim that expanded hours for voting, wider access to mail-in ballots, and other accommodations made for the pandemic led to extensive voter fraud.
Democrats say there is no evidence for that, and that the GOP, after losing the White House and Senate in the November vote, simply want to make it harder for many people.
The party believes the new measures would make it harder for African-Americans, Native Americans and others who tend to support Democrats, to participate in elections.
The fight over the restrictions has drawn comparisons with decades ago when laws were drawn up across the south to prevent black Americans from voting.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed, and prohibited racial discrimination in voting by outlawing literary tests and poll taxes.
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld two provisions in Arizona that discarded votes cast at the wrong precinct on Election Day and made it illegal for an absentee ballot to be collected by anyone other then a postal worker, election official, voter caregiver, family member or household member.
The changes Republicans are pushing include:
Many states have permitted citizens, if not already registered to vote, to do so on election day with simple evidence of their residency in the state.
But the new legislation in some states demands they register early and do so with an official ID card like a driver’s licence.
Democrats and civil liberties groups claim the ID requirements hit the poor more than others, and can result in a 2-3 percent fall in voter turnout.
The legislation in Florida would also stop people from going door-to-door to drum up votes.
Many states expanded voting by mail in 2020 to address the challenge of the coronavirus, but Republicans believe this lead to fraud.
In the 2020 election the number of people who voted by mail more than doubled from four years earlier, resulting in many ballots being delivered late and not counted until days after election day.
It caused chaos in the aftermath of the November vote, with states including Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania not finishing their count for days and Joe Biden not being called the winner for almost a week.
Georgia cut in half the time allowed to obtain a mail-in ballot.
Arizona proposed to require that every mailed ballot be post-marked five days before an election.
Colorado and other states send mail-in ballots to every registered voter. In June Wisconsin’s Republican legislature voted to require anyone wanting a mail-in ballot to formally request it in writing, with a copy of their ID.
Georgia and other states have moved to limit the availability of drop-boxes for mail ballots.
Early voting limits:
Early in-person voting was expanded during the pandemic because of social distancing and to avoid lines at the polls on election day.
Legislators in some states are shortening the number of days and the hours for early voting.
Democrats say it makes it difficult for people who work long hours to be able to vote and disproportionately impacts poor communities and minorities.
Help for voters:
On election day in Georgia last year voters in largely Democrat, African-American districts had to wait in line for hours.
To help them with the long wait volunteers handed out water and snacks.
Georgia has banned people from providing snacks.
Republicans also want to prevent people from delivering ballots to election offices for those who cannot do so themselves.
The Democrats believe this is tactic is being used to stop Native Americans who live on reservations from voting. A new law in Montana bans organized ballot collection on reservations.
Democrats in Washington D.C. want to see federal legislation enacted to protect voting rights.
Their ‘For the People’ Act would create a national automatic system for registering voters and established national standards for mail-in and absentee ballot.
In June, Senate Republicans blocked the legislation from moving forward in that chamber after the House approved it.
That June failure increased focus on the Senate filibuster, which requires any legislation to have 60 votes in order to move forward.
If left in place, odds of the Democrats’ two voting rights measures – For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – becoming law are slim.
Many Democrats, including some Biden allies, have expressed frustration with the lack of White House push to reform the filibuster.
‘I’m not filibustering now,’ Biden said in Philadelphia after his speech, when he was asked about the issue.
Some Biden supporters point out he was elected with broad support from black voters, who are at most risk from the new state voting restrictions.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a longtime Biden ally, urged this week that the filibuster be modified for voting rights legislation.
Clyburn told Politico if the Democrats’ two voting laws don’t pass Congress: ‘Democrats can kiss the majority goodbye.’
The Democrats’ second bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, would:
- Create a pathway for citizens or the federal government to challenge new voter laws in the courts, particularly if parties can show the new law infringes on minority voting rights.
- Require public notice for any changes made to voting laws in a state or political subdivision.
- Provide new rules for polling places on Indian reservations that require states to pay for polling places at no cost to tribes.
- Require many categories of changes in state or local election procedures to go through a process called ‘preclearance’ — essentially, approval from the Justice Department’s civil rights division — before being implemented.