There are few national minimum standards for how elections should be run, such as set registration deadlines or a time period for early voting. That allows state governments to adopt their own procedures, including those that suppress the right to vote.

Last month, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would work to protect and expand voting rights, failed to pass the Senate when two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, refused to support rule changes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Congress' failure to pass the bill leaves voting rights legislation in political turmoil as states — including New Hampshire, Texas and Georgia — are proposing new laws that critics say will make it harder for people, especially people of color, to exercise their right to vote.

Local activists who are leading the charge on voting rights told Phillip Martin on Basic Black that it is not just states like Georgia where voter suppression is happening, and Massachusetts is not immune to such issues.

"This is not a regional problem. This is a national problem," said Renée Graham, associate editor and opinion columnist with the Boston Globe. "And I think the most toxic thing that has happened in this discussion is how somehow the right to vote became partisan. Democracy is not partisan."

Graham said the fight over voting rights did not go away after the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, but she said it has ramped up in recent years.

"I constantly think about the people in this nation's history who died for voting rights. People were murdered trying to ensure voting rights for all. ... The fact that we're even having this conversation is absolutely disheartening when you think about where this country has been."

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE, emphasized that legislators play an important role in lifting barriers in the way of voting. She used the example of the state House last week passing a voting access bill that did not include same-day voter registration — something that already exists in 20 other states and Washington, D.C.

"I think we address that situation on the ground by making sure that we put the right legislators in place that represent us," said Crawford.

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard, noted three key strategies to voter suppression in the United States: restricting access to the ballot, creating a culture of fear and weaponizing the administrative processes around voting.

Those administrative changes involve "creating and legalizing something that seems like it's harmless on the surface, but in fact an undermining weakens the process," said Brown.

In addition to concerns about access to ballots, activists say legislators need to dore more to protect against voter intimidation. Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston, said on Election Day his organization received reports of people at polling sites screaming obsenities and racial epithets at Cambodian American voters in line.

"We need to exercise not just voting rights protections, but also state laws, to really go after bad actors and make sure that the polling sites remain accessible for everyone and safe for everyone to be able to cast a meaningful ballot," Espinoza-Madrigal said.

Watch: Activists on Basic Black discuss barriers to voting rights

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