For over two decades, I have taught K-12, university, graduate and adult students. I am tasked with teaching my students to think well and write cogently, and when they don’t it is my job to let them know. It is also our job as citizens to communicate with our representatives about our concerns for our nation.
It is therefore incredibly disappointing — an affront to my educator sensibilities, honestly — to have my letters to Sen. Mike Lee, respectfully worded and based on facts, be answered with illogic and even misinformation. I would not allow my students to write like this; I expect our highest representatives to meet the same basic standard.
Recently I wrote to Sens. Lee and Mitt Romney to urge them to support the voting reform. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe that we must “do [our] business by the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:26). For this reason, I am supportive of voting rights legislation. Such legislation has passed the House and, given what is at stake, should now at least be debated before the Senate.
One such piece of legislation is the Freedom to Vote Act (FTVA). After Republicans filibustered the For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1), several moderate senators responded to Republican criticisms and produced the more limited FTVA. Despite the attempt at compromise, this bill was also filibustered, meaning that senators were not even able to open debate on the legislation. This does not reflect the will of the people. A majority of Americans approve of most of the bill’s reforms, including automatic voter registration, campaign spending limits, vote-by-mail, early voting, fair voter ID policies, and an end to partisan gerrymandering. Why not allow debate over such policies?
Another voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, may receive the same treatment. Voting rights bills have had bipartisan support since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and this one should be no different. Unfortunately, unless at least 10 Republican senators vote with their Democratic colleagues, this important legislation will also be silenced without debate on the Senate floor.
The responses I received from both senators were disappointing. While Romney acknowledged that “free and fair elections [are] guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and [are] the bedrock of our republic,” he argued against federal legislation, stating that voting freedom protections would be “mandates on the states dictating how they administer elections.”
His states’ rights argument ignores the Supreme Court’s multiple rulings on the constitutionality of federal voting reformation. Perhaps more importantly, there was no acknowledgement that before previous actions at the federal level, millions of American citizens were regularly denied the right to vote by state governments. I was disappointed that my elected representative did not seem to understand this.
But Lee’s response was even more frustrating. In his letter he claimed that “early voting for all … [is] designed to dilute the power of legitimate vote.”
This is false. Early voting in no way dilutes the legitimate vote. In fact, by giving more eligible voters better access to the vote, it increases the number of people who can participate. Don’t want to vote in a virus-ridden crowd on a single day? Have young children or a job which does not allow time off on Election Day? Just plain excited to exercise your Constitutional right to select your representatives? For all of these reasons, early voting abets the legitimate vote by enabling voter participation. The higher the percentage of voters in every election, the more we can feel confident that the results reflect the will of the people. This is good for democracy.
The senator is a busy man. I would be surprised if he has not voted early himself.
Lee’s statement gives me further pause because he seems to be implying that some votes — perhaps the ones these pieces of legislation hope to protect? — are illegitimate. Workers whose jobs don’t accommodate single-day voting? Black and brown Americans, whose votes have been denied and compromised? Members of political parties other than one’s own?
Sen. Lee, please be transparent about how you define the “legitimate vote.” I hope it truly encompasses all eligible Americans.
I want every learner to leave my classroom with strong writing skills and the expectation that their writing reflects truth. When my students make mistakes, I explain where they went wrong. So, after a few days of thinking about it, I took out a red pen and marked up Lee’s letter before mailing it back to him. I did that then and write this now to remind him that Americans deserve leaders who govern based on truth, not falsehood.
Lisa Rampton Halverson is the director of advocacy communications for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.