One of the biggest issues before the state legislature this year is voting rights. There have been 80 voting-related bills introduced in this legislative session. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters has this to say about the bills:
“Nearly all of those are removing options for the voter, such as reducing days for application of an absentee ballot, reducing voting on weekends during early voting, requiring more information on an application for an absentee ballot, disallowing local elections departments from setting their working hours during early voting, disallowing drop boxes outdoors for 24/7 voter access, severely limiting the use of mobile voting precincts, requiring local elections departments to report information in less time and information that only election wonks ever read and elected politicians are the main consumers.”
We know, of course, why voting rights is such a hot issue now. It’s in reaction to the Big Lie, the fraudulent claim that there was widespread voting fraud in the November 2020 election, and that the fraud resulted in the election being stolen from Donald Trump. There is no evidence to back up that claim, but that hasn’t stopped Trump and other high profile Republicans from endlessly repeating it, even after the Big Lie led to the insurrection of January 6 and almost resulted in the death of the Vice President and Speaker of the House.
I’d like to share with you an op-ed from today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution about this issue. It is written by eight Emory physicians and medical students about the correlation of voting rights to public health. One of the co-authors is Lauren Gensler, the daughter of parishioners Beth Tanis and John Chandler. Lauren was married at St. Dunstan’s and her children were baptized here.
A link to the piece is below, but here is a sampling of it:
“Let us be clear: as current and future healthcare professionals, we see firsthand that the health of our patients is a direct reflection of the policies of our state. We strive to think of ways to make physical and mental health maintenance easier for all our patients — we advocate for green space, access to healthy foods, safe walking areas, and health insurance. We call for telehealth, home visits, reduced co-pays, social services and accessible transportation. We know that these issues disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities. By restricting absentee voting and voting more generally, the proposed bills would further codify racial inequities into policy.
“Our experiences show that caring for our patients means caring about the policies that govern our state and country. They remind us that our patients deserve the opportunity to elect the lawmakers whose policies influence their lives. To place a barrier on their ability to vote on the very policies that affect the health of their communities — particularly during a pandemic — is unfathomable. That is why we believe that healthcare professionals much advocate for voting rights.”
As I read this piece today I realized that not only is voting rights a healthcare issue, it is also a theological one. In our baptismal covenant, which we renew several times a year, we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all people,” to “strive for justice and peace among all people,” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”
To respect the dignity of every human being means making sure every person has a voice on the issues that affect them. In our country the way that everyone has an equal voice is through voting. To deny that right, or to make it more difficult, is profoundly unChristian.
Voting restrictions — or suppression — has a long history in this part of the country. Next week is the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, and later this month is the anniversary of the Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery. The path to the voting booth is paved with blood and lined with the markers of those who died for that right.
The Jim Crow laws of the South were designed to keep Blacks from fully participating in the life of the community, to keep them from having a say in the policies that affected their lives. Many white Southerners were willing to resort to violence, even murder, to keep African Americans from accesss to the ballot box. The bills that restrict voting rights are not violent, but their intent is the same: to make it more difficult for Black and Brown people to vote.
These bills are for the most part introduced by Republicans, who historically have not had the support of Black and Brown communities. Republican lawmakers know that they are more likely to win if fewer minorities vote.
Here’s a novel idea — if a political party sees that it is not getting the support of a large portion of the population why not ask why? And then address the issues by reaching out to those communities and offering policies that will benefit them, that respect their dignity, that offer them justice. That is what our faith calls us to do. As Christians we are called to care for those on the margins, not to push them further away; to give them a voice, not silence them. Policies that improve life for those on the margins do not make life more difficult for those of us with privilege.
It is up to those of us who have a voice to speak up for those who don’t, and urge our lawmakers to vote against these bills.