Commentary: There is only one ‘most important issue’ now

October 5, 2021 5:50 am
People wait in line to vote

In discarding fair voting and elections, the MAGA-dominated GOP sweep aside every issue Americans care about. (John McCosh | Georgia Recorder)

Which current political issue is most important to you?

If you answered anything but voting rights and democratic (small “d”) elections, I’m going to ask you to reconsider your answer.

To say that we as a nation face a number of critical issues right now is an understatement. Perhaps you lie awake at night worrying about the pandemic, or reproductive choice, or climate change, or gun violence, or jobs, or child care, or racially based police brutality, or economic inequity, or … I could do this all day. At this point, there are plenty of dire problems to worry about. We’re not going through an easy period on any level.

But the resolution of every one of those issues depends on the outcome of the war being waged in this country over voting rights and democratic elections – the very foundation of our democracy. If people don’t have equal access to the ballot, then their interests cannot be fairly represented in our republican (small “r”) government. And if proposals across the country to overturn electoral results or otherwise subvert the duly elected will of the people continue to become law, then there is no reason to believe the will of the people on any other issue will matter to the party that is deliberately constructing a framework to gain and retain its autocratic hold on power. 

The perpetuation of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was somehow stolen – in the face of all evidence to the contrary – by the MAGA-controlled GOP is undermining confidence in our electoral system and is deliberately being used to fuel GOP efforts to push state-level legislation to limit voting. The impact of these measures, a number of which have already been enacted into law, often fall disproportionately on racial minorities and other marginalized people. This is not accidental. The GOP is working hard to make voting much harder for people who historically tend to oppose them. They’re doing this by closing down polling places in densely populated areas, making it harder to register to vote, purging voter rolls more often and for flimsy reasons, etc. Famously, some states have gone so far as to engineer long lines for those who do wish to vote in heavily minority neighborhoods, then made it illegal to offer voters food or water while they stand in line for hours. 

Other GOP measures focus on how to handle elections after the vote, removing power from state and local election officials in favor of GOP-held legislative bodies and sometimes subjecting ordinary election administration judgment calls to criminal penalties. 

In New Hampshire, where efforts to disenfranchise college students are a well-known GOP pastime, Republican lawmakers have filed dozens of markers for the 2022 session pertaining to voting or weakening other democratic institutions. Details are not yet available for most, but past performance suggests that at least some of these bills will, as in other states, claim to fight that mythical beast, “election fraud.”  

Compromise voting rights legislation to ensure equal access to the polls and prevent this election meddling has stalled in the U.S. Senate, landing at the feet of the filibuster, a 19th-century procedural invention that has outlasted its usefulness. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., one of the legislation’s sponsors and a diehard fan of the filibuster, says the filibuster’s requirement of 60 votes to move legislation forward requires bipartisanship that is essential to democracy. But Manchin has failed to notice that bipartisanship has been kicked in the teeth and stuffed in a locker, and the GOP bullies are trying to jam shut the locker door. 

Passing this legislation – as well as defeating these voter suppression measures at the state level – is essential for the survival of our democracy. 

At this point, you’re probably wondering if I’m exaggerating. I’ll tell you no, and this is why: In a functioning democracy, people and parties run for office on the strength of their ideas. As a candidate, if I have the best ideas and I’m able to communicate them to my potential or actual constituents, then they will choose me. But if my opponent understands my district, my state, or my country better, and puts forth better ideas in a more appealing manner, then she wins and I lose on Election Day. I accept that loss, and the winner then holds the obligation to exercise her office in the best manner possible for her constituents. Judgment day comes with the next election. 

That’s elementary American civics. It’s government of, by, and for the people, through elected representation. Everyone from middle school on up knows this. But one of the two major parties in our country is no longer following this model. Instead, it’s working to alter the structure of our system so that the system itself will allow only those who agree with MAGA GOP leaders to hold power. In this new construct, those who disagree with the pro-Trump wing of the GOP are automatically undeserving of and ineligible to hold office, and so they cannot be allowed to exercise any real power. 

This is how modern autocracy creeps into a democracy. Not with tanks, but via elections and transformations of civil structure. 

In discarding fair voting and elections, the MAGA-dominated GOP sweep aside every issue Americans care about. They promote their own power over the well-being of the American people, the Constitution, and potentially the existence of our democracy itself. MAGA politicians at every level of government are no longer competing on the field of ideas. Rather, they’re just trying to run their competitors off the field so they can lock the gate behind them and have the field all to themselves.

Across this country, the people must decide whether we are to remain a democratic republic that runs free and fair elections with results respected by the people, or whether we will become an authoritarian, one-party-dominant state. 

Every issue you care about is at stake. Every issue is dependent on voting rights and democratic elections. Don’t ask, “Can it happen here?” It can, and it has already begun. Ask yourself instead, “Do I want to live in a democracy or an autocracy?” We the people are making that decision right now.

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Tracy Hahn-Burkett
Tracy Hahn-Burkett

Tracy Hahn-Burkett is a writer and public policy advocate. Her website is, and you can find her on Twitter at