"This bill will make it easier for ordinary Americans to register and cast a ballot," the former first lady says

By Sean Neumann
March 04, 2021 06:44 PM
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Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama
| Credit: Scott Olson/Getty

Michelle Obama is applauding Democratic lawmakers' push this week to enact an expansive voting-rights bill that just passed the House of Representatives and next moves to a more uncertain future in the Senate.

The former first lady and voting rights activist said Thursday, however, that the Senate should also pass the For the People Act "as soon as possible — because there is nothing more important to the health and future of our democracy than safeguarding the right to vote."

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the proposal, which would help create a nationwide automatic voter registration system, expand mail-in voting, restore voting rights to people with a past felony and protect against state's individual attempts to create restrictive new laws surrounding voter identification.

The bill passed the House with most Democratic lawmakers voting in favor of it and most Republicans voting against it.

To pass the Senate, it would need 10 Republican votes — a daunting prospect given conservative criticism of what they cast as federal intervention in local elections, despite what numerous advocates say is needed intervention to protect democracy.

Obama, 57, has become a national voice for voting rights with her When We All Vote organization, started in 2018.

"From the very beginning, When We All Vote has been focused on making it easier for everyone — especially young people and people of color — to vote in every election at every level," she said Thursday. "I'm so proud that we saw a record turnout in the 2020 election. I'm proud of all those who voted and volunteered to make sure that, even in the middle of a pandemic, Americans everywhere could exercise their unalienable right to vote."

"But while we celebrate these historic gains, unfortunately too many leaders are working to reverse that progress and make it harder for people with every right to vote to cast a ballot," she continued. "Our democracy remains under attack by the partisan and unpatriotic actions of those at the state level who are doing everything they can to curtail access to the ballot box."

"Make no mistake — the idea that we cannot both hold secure elections and ensure that every eligible voter can make their voices heard is a false choice. It's based on lies and it flies in the face of our history," the former first lady said. "It is sad. It is infuriating. And it is a genuine threat to our future that must be taken seriously."

She hailed the For the People Act as helping "make sure that our system of government remains in the hands of the many, and not the few."

polling place
A polling place in California
| Credit: Getty

The 2020 election saw the highest voter turnout in any U.S. election since 1900, according to The Washington Post. In all, more than 159 million people voted in the general election — the highest number of total voters in U.S. history.

"More votes were cast in this election than ever before. It's because of you," Obama said after the November election, in which she celebrated her friend President Joe Biden's win.

Though the 2020 election saw unprecedented turnout, it also saw widespread clashes over how votes were cast and counted.

Former President Donald Trump refused to accept his loss and repeatedly claimed without evidence that he only lost because the election was stolen from him — a lie roundly dismissed by state and federal courts and local elections officials both sides of the aisle.

"Everything is at stake. We must win this race, this fight," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before Democrats passed the latest voting rights bill on Wednesday, according to The New York Times.

"At the same time as we are gathering here to honor our democracy, across the country over 200 bills are being put together, provisions are being put forward to suppress the vote," Pelosi, 80, said.

At the state level, there have been 253 bills recently introduced in 43 states that would restrict a person's voting access, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center.

Republican lawmakers argue the For the People Act is an overstep of federal power and that voting laws should remain in the power of the states and local municipalities.

"Democrats want to use their razor-thin majority not to pass bills to earn voters' trust, but to ensure they don't lose more seats in the next election," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, said on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

This is the second time Democratic lawmakers in the House have tried to pass the For the People Act. In 2019, during the last Congress, the bill also passed the House before getting struck down in the Republican-controlled Senate.