Commentary

It’s time for Iowa’s representatives to restore voter confidence

January 18, 2021 8:00 am

Laural Clinton, left, and Shelia Wolder work on voter outreach at the Polk County auditor’s office. (Photo courtesy of Laural Clinton)

In 2020, Americans turned out in record numbers to elect new leaders. Through long lines, racist voter suppression and a pandemic, we exercised our right to vote. In a win for democracy, people across race, income, and Zip code made our voices heard. We united across our differences and elected a government of, by, and for the people.

Unfortunately, elected officials like Donald Trump, Chuck Grassley, and Kim Reynolds tried to divide us, sowing doubts about the legitimacy of our elections. Their lies and conspiracy theories recently came to a head when right-wing militants and white supremacists, directed by the president and his fellow Republicans, attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Jan. 6 was an attack on a rising multiracial democracy, but it was not an isolated incident. For decades, a wealthy few have tried to suppress our right to vote, with devastating consequences for every Iowan and every American. I’ve seen those consequences in my community.

In the lead-up to Election Day on Nov. 3, I worked voter turnout hard. I called friends and family members to remind them to vote. I got them the information they needed to register and securely cast their ballot. I even masked up to drive loved ones without cars to the polls.

It’s clear that people in my community face many barriers to voting. Some were unsure of how and where to vote. Others struggled to get time off work. Some didn’t have transportation. A friend with a felony conviction didn’t even know if he could vote, since Iowa had only restored his right to vote a few months before.

These barriers aren’t an accident. They’re part of a national voter suppression effort, carried out by corporate-backed politicians who don’t believe in democracy. And it’s happening right here in Iowa. For years, Iowa Republicans have promoted a voter ID strategy that democracy experts say is “unnecessary, expensive, and threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Iowans.” This strategy restricts the voting rights of Black and brown people, poor people, elderly people, and people with disabilities.

This leads to another crisis: distrust in our democratic system. When I called and drove people to the polls, I heard a common refrain: “My vote doesn’t even matter.” Corporate control of our politics has led Iowans, especially Black Iowans, to believe a lie: that we have no voice and no power. But organized people will always win over big-money attempts to steal our democracy. Just look at Georgia, where Black and brown organizers “knocked on the door of every registered Latino voter in Georgia” and turned out record-breaking numbers of Black rural voters.

To address the crises we face, we need our elected officials to restore voter confidence. We need to expand automatic and same-day voter registration, combat voter intimidation and suppression, and strengthen vote by mail and early voting that was so essential during this pandemic. We must also rein in the influence of lobbyists and promote transparency, requiring candidates to disclose their donors.

House Resolution 1, a bill introduced by House Democrats, addresses all of these issues. It implements and modernizes automatic voter registration and voting by mail across the country. It requires at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, and it requires that early voting locations be open at least 10 hours per day, available in rural areas, and near public transportation.

It also takes long-overdue steps to address the influence of corporate money in our politics, requiring organizations who spend money in elections to disclose the identity of any donors who give more than $10,000. With H.R. 1, grassroots candidates could also receive matching funds for every small-dollar donation they receive. The money for this matching fund would come from a surcharge on settlements paid by corporate lawbreakers.

I am pleased that my representative, Cindy Axne, backed it in 2019. When the House reintroduces H.R. 1, Axne must once again vote for this bill, and her newly elected Republican colleagues should join her.

If we are going to roll back the harmful effects of corporate influence, protect our democracy from attacks like the ones we saw on Jan. 6, and build a small-dollar democracy that lets Black and brown Iowans advocate for our needs, we need to protect our democracy. Legislation like H.R. 1 is a step in the right direction.

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Laural Clinton
Laural Clinton

Laural Clinton is a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund. She is a resident of Des Moines and a campaigner for voting rights and racial justice.

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