A Catholic response to voter suppression
Notre Dame Write to Vote | Thursday, November 3, 2022
In the 2020 Introductory U.S. Bishops Letter, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops call upon “everyone living in this country . . . to participate in public life and contribute to the common good.” The U.S. bishops stress that everyone has to partake in political life in our country. The simplest and most universal way in which all people can play a part in public life is by voting. Regrettably, two years ago, then-President Donald Trump began a campaign to suppress Americans’ right to vote and to undermine political representation in our country.
In the late hours of election night 2020, on Wednesday, Nov. 4, Trump held a press conference at 2 a.m. in the White House . His speech quickly divulged into a grievance-laced attack on the integrity of the 2020 election. With a row of American flags draped behind him, Trump defiantly proclaimed, “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”
Of course, at the time, millions of ballots had yet to be counted and half a dozen battleground states had yet to declare a winner. Trump had absolutely no way of knowing whether or not he had won the election, but he unapologetically claimed that he did for his own political gain. As a consequence of his false assertion, Trump dealt a serious blow to American democracy.
In the past two years, under the guise of maintaining election integrity, multiple Republican-controlled states bought into Trump’s Big Lie and enacted laws that make it more difficult for individuals to vote.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-profit public policy institute, as of October 2021, 19 states have passed and enacted 33 voter suppression laws that, among other provisions, limit the number of early voting days, shorten the amount of time to apply for a mail ballot and impose harsher voter ID requirements.
In the face of the emergence of a multitude of voter suppression laws, the question is: how should Catholics respond?
The Susan B. Anthony List, a Catholic non-profit organization that seeks to end abortion in the U.S., believes that these voter suppression laws are justifiable and even praise-worthy. After Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp signed a voter suppression bill into law in March 2021 under the banner of “election integrity,” the Susan B. Anthony List claimed that Kemp’s “leadership has helped galvanize an election integrity movement surging toward restored trust and confidence in elections where it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
However, there was no substantial evidence of voter fraud in the state of Georgia in the 2020 election. Moreover, the law that Kemp signed does not address this imaginary threat. Instead, it only makes it disproportionately more difficult for minority voters in Georgia to cast their ballot.
Contrary to the statement released by the Susan B. Anthony List, Georgia’s new voter suppression law, and similar laws being passed around the country, should not be hailed as protecting our democracy. Instead, they should be called out for what they are: completely un-American and vehemently anti-Catholic.
As previously mentioned, U.S. bishops have emphasized that all Americans must actively take part in our political process. We have an obligation to work in pursuit of our country’s common good, so Americans must, therefore, remain politically engaged. Voting should be the simplest way for individuals to have a role in our political process.
This call for Catholics to support all individuals’ right to vote and to vote themselves is not a new ideal of Catholicism. In fact, Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World that was issued at the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, implores “all citizens” to “be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good.”
Just as the U.S. bishops’ letter makes clear that “everyone” has an obligation to take part in the public sphere, Gaudium et Spes furthers this sentiment when it instructs “all citizens” to exercise their solemn right to vote. Catholic teaching emphasizes the importance of voting for all individuals. In having the vast majority of Americans participate in the voting process, the common good can be effectively pursued in the U.S.
The new voting laws that have been enacted throughout the country directly oppose the goals espoused by Catholic documents. These laws do not seek to incorporate as many people in the democratic process as possible. They strive to exclude racial minorities from voting, thereby suppressing their political influence in various states. They are based entirely on sentiments of oppression and are, therefore, completely antithetical to Catholic values.
Catholics are called to stand up to injustice in all ways that it manifests itself. Proverbs 31:8 tells us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” It is our job, as Catholics, to unequivocally denounce these voter suppression laws that deny individuals the full dignity that they are entitled to as children of God.
We need to make clear that these laws in no way promote the ideals of Catholicism, and Catholics must work to elect officials who share our same values and desire to uphold the intrinsic dignity of all people by protecting their right to vote.
Zachary Geiger (’25) is majoring in Political Science and Theology. He is a member of ND’s Write to Vote chapter. W2V is the Notre Dame chapter of the national Write to Vote Project, a non-partisan, pro-democracy initiative. Its goal is to support democracy, encourage civic engagement and advance voting rights in the U.S. and around the world. You can contact NDW2V at [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.