Following the litany of issues for voters in Georgia’s primary election on Tuesday, renewed focus has been brought to the question of whether the U.S. is prepared to handle voting in November.
On Thursday, Quentin Palfrey joined Boston Public Radio to talk about challenges in fighting voter suppression ahead of the upcoming election. Palfrey chairs the Voter Protection Corps, a national network of experts dedicated to defending voter rights.
He said the problems that Georgia voters saw this week, of understaffed polling stations and shortages of provisional ballots, only represent a portion of the larger issues threatening the country's elections.
"We’ve had this shameful system for many years,” Palfrey said, "in which communities of color face obstacles to registering in voting that aren’t faced by other folks in the system, and it’s a real threat to our democracy. If you add to that a president who weaponizes lies to put in places obstacles, and a pandemic, I think that it’s clear that we have a perfect storm of obstacles in this election, and we need to make sure that we’re devoting the resources to make sure that it’s free and fair."
Palfrey described voter suppression as “an attack on the fundamental underpinnings of our democracy,” and called out Republican leaders for what he described as historic efforts to limit participation among low-income Americans, and particularly communities of color.
“Look,” he said, "I’m willing to call out the Democratic Party when we’re wrong, but this is not a both sides are equally to blame kind of issue. Unfortunately, in our country right now, we have one party that has been taken over by people who believe that their path to success, when they don’t have a majority of the actual support in the country, is to make it harder for certain groups to vote."
Back in January, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said efforts from Democrats to make election day a federal holiday ammounted to a "power grab." And in April, President Trump tweeted that vote-by-mail "doesn't work well for Republicans."
“Unfortunately, a fairly large chunk of the people in power in the Republican Party see everybody voting as an obstacle to their continued power,” Palfrey said. "And so, voter suppression, alongside things like gerrymandering, campaign finance problems, and some other distortions towards a democratic system, [have] taken us to the brink of a place where we’re not really functioning like a democracy.”
"I think that it’s really important that we stand up for those democratic principals in order to get our country back on track again,” he said.