As he entered into the final days of an intense campaign for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, Keith Ellison delivered an urgent message about ongoing Republican attacks on voting rights:
Our democracy gains strength when more Americans participate in elections. But millions cannot vote today because of restrictive voting laws in some states—and President Trump has pledged to expand those laws nationwide. A constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote would help stop this voter suppression.
To that end, Ellison, Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Congressman John Lewis, D-Georgia, led two dozen House members this month in introducing the most powerful response to the ongoing assault on voting rights in states across the country: a constitutional amendment to explicitly guarantee the right to vote.
Ellison is not naïve. He does not expect that the amendment will be enacted immediately. He has been in the forefront of fights in Minnesota and nationally to develop legislative, legal and movement responses to specific threats to the franchise. This year, with Lewis and Pocan, he has been explicitly critical of President Trump’s lies about “voter fraud,” which the Wisconsinite says “clearly looks like an attempt to undermine our election process.”
But Ellison also recognizes the need for a forward-looking, big-picture approach to political challenges. And he is willing—as the founders suggested would be necessary—to make constitutional reform a part of his advocacy and activism. That has excited supporters of his bid for the DNC chairmanship, which will be decided on Saturday, when 447 top Democrats from across the country gather in Atlanta to name new leaders.
National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro says it is Ellison’s ability to focus on the precise work of the moment while at the same time framing out a bold vision for the future that distinguishes him from the other able contenders in a DNC contest that also includes former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “Selecting Keith Ellison to chair the DNC is exactly the direction the Democratic Party needs to go to rebuild and strengthen its ties with working class Americans, young people, communities of color, and the full diversity of the 99 percent of Americans who should be the base of the Democratic Party,” says DeMoro.
While DeMoro was, like Ellison, a backer of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, key backers of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy are also supporting Ellison. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten hails the congressman as a “true organizer.”
Ellison is that. But he is also an issue-focused visionary who recognizes the need for immediate struggle and a long-term agenda to expand democracy. “I’ve seen him bring his organizing energy to the fight for civil and human rights in the halls of Congress,” says John Lewis. “I partnered with Keith to introduce legislation recognizing labor organizing as a civil right. Keith has also introduced an amendment to enshrine the right to vote in the Constitution. In Minnesota and across the nation, he has been a passionate opponent of voter ID laws that suppress the vote.”
“Donald Trump is lying to America about 3 to 5 million undocumented people voting because he wants to set the stage for more voter suppression,” the congressman from Minnesota explains. “Expect Trump and his henchmen to push restrictive photo ID requirements, limit early voting and make it harder to even register to vote. These tactics deliberately impinge on Americans right to vote, and Trump and Republicans know it. Truth-oriented Americans know that widespread voter fraud is a myth, and that living up to our best principles means moving to expand the electorate by pushing for automatic voter registration, early voting and vote by mail.”
And, now, a Right to Vote Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—because, says Ellison, “Nothing should stand between Americans and the voting booth.”