Letters From an American: Voting, Vaccines, Income Loss

Heather Cox Richardson

As daily readers of Heather Cox Richardson’s news, we will occasionally summarize some of the notable updates she shares from her synopses:

Confronting Poverty

March 10: The House of Representatives passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, accepting the changes to the measure that the Senate had added. Congress has returned to the principles of the nation before 1981, using the federal government to support ordinary Americans. With its expansion of the child tax credit, the [landmark] bill is projected to reach about 27 million children and to cut child poverty in half.

Rather than funneling money upward in the belief that those at the top will invest in the economy and thus create jobs for poorer Americans, the Democrats are returning to the idea that using the government to put money into the hands of ordinary Americans will rebuild the economy from the bottom up.

Unlike the previous implementations of this theory, it does not privilege white men. It moves money to low-wage earners generally, especially to women and to people of color. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) compared it to the New Deal legislation:  “Franklin Roosevelt lifted seniors out of poverty, 90 percent of them with Social Security, and with the stroke of a pen,” she said.

March 6: “America currently has a population of about 331 million people. By the end of 2020, more than 83 million Americans were having trouble meeting bills or buying food, and by January 2021, 30 to 40 million Americans were at risk of eviction because they could not make their rent payments. This crisis hit women and people of color the hardest because they tend to work in face-to-face jobs, which did not translate to remote work, and because the loss of childcare drove women out of the workforce. Thirty-nine percent of low-income households saw job losses early in the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan addresses this crisis.”

Voting Rights

March 9: “Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law what election lawyer Marc Elias called the ‘first major suppression law since the 2020 election.’ Among other things, it shortens early voting and seriously restricts mail-in voting. … Elias told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “I am begging America and the media to pay attention to this. Right now we are facing an avalanche of voter suppression that we have not seen before, at least not since Jim Crow. In state after state — it’s not just Iowa; it’s not just Georgia; it’s not just Arizona… It’s also Montana. It’s also Missouri. It’s also Florida. It’s also Texas. The list goes on and on. Donald Trump told a Big Lie that led to an assault on democracy in the Capitol on January 6. The assaults we’re seeing going on now in state capitols with the legislatures may be less deadly, and be less violent, but they are every bit as damaging to our democracy.”

March 7: Black Americans outnumbered white Americans among the 29,500 people who lived in Selma, Alabama, in the 1960s, but the city’s voting rolls were 99% white. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, but it did not adequately address the problem of voter suppression. In Selma, a judge had stopped voter registration protests by issuing an injunction prohibiting public gatherings of more than two people. … For seven weeks, Black residents tried to register to vote. County Sheriff James Clark arrested almost 2000 of them for a variety of charges, including contempt of court and parading without a permit. A federal court ordered Clark not to interfere with orderly registration, so he forced Black applicants to stand in line for hours before taking a “literacy” test. Not a single person passed.  

On March 7, 1965, marchers set out [walking 54 miles from Selma to the Alabama state capital in Montgomery]. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, and U.S. senator who stood against Black rights, state troopers and other law enforcement officers met the unarmed marchers with billy clubs, bull whips, and tear gas. They fractured John Lewis’s skull, and beat Amelia Boynton unconscious. A newspaper photograph of the 54-year-old Boynton, seemingly dead in the arms of another marcher, illustrated the depravity of those determined to stop Black voting. Images of “Bloody Sunday” on the national news mesmerized the nation, and supporters began to converge on Selma.

Today, legislators in 43 states are considering sweeping legislation to restrict voting, especially voting by people of color. Among the things Georgia wants to outlaw is giving water to voters as they wait for hours in line to get to the polls.

March 4: H.R. 1 is a sweeping elections and government ethics bill that passed the U.S. House. It makes it easier for citizens to vote, with same-day voter registration, allows early and mail-in voting, curbs dark money in elections, and requires independent redistricting commissions to draw state districts. It also requires disclosures of presidential tax returns, tightens restrictions around congressional conflicts of interest, and requires the development of an ethics code in the Supreme Court. Although places like the bipartisan League of Women Voters strongly supports it, others object.

An attorney for the Republican Party in Arizona told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that making it easier to vote “puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. It is the difference between winning an election 50-49 and losing an election 51-50.”

Republican legislators in 43 states have recently introduced bills to restrict the vote. As the Washington Post wrote in response: “Republicans’ apocalyptic rhetoric is so wildly disproportionate to the contents of the bill, one must wonder what they are really worried about. Are they that afraid of democracy?”


March 5: “Florida governor Ron DeSantis is denying any involvement in a vaccine drive in a private, gated community after which a resident of the community, former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, made a donation of $250,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis Political Action Committee. This appears to be part of a pattern in Florida, where vaccine administration seems to track with wealthy communities whose members donate to the governor’s campaign funds.”

Source: Heather Cox Richardson, “Letters From an American”