The unhinged, un-American, and undemocratic attacks on the right to vote have not stopped since the 2020 election — on the contrary, the Pennsylvania Republicans are opening up a new and dangerous front.
As a state representative and a member of the committee that oversees Pennsylvania election laws, I was intimately involved in the turbulent 2020 general election. I bore witness to the insidiousness of Trumpism and abject rejection of reality that have come to characterize the majority of the elected Republicans in Pennsylvania and nationally right now. Now, our democracy is coming under one of its most severe stress tests in the modern era.
Last fall, Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania tried to ram an “election integrity panel” through my committee, which would have allowed them to subpoena ballots, impound voting machines — all while the election was taking place. I, along with other Democrats, used every legislative tool to block them, including rallying our communities to loudly oppose this broadside. Together, we won. The panel went nowhere, and every single vote was counted, no matter how it was cast.
But now they are still demanding sensitive data like Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, names, and addresses from millions of Pennsylvanians with no plan to protect it and no obvious need to have it.
For almost a year now, they’ve laid the groundwork for widespread lies and conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of our election results. Act 77, the Pennsylvania bill that allowed for universal no-excuse mail-in voting, won broad bipartisan support in 2019. At the time, Republicans praised the act for making voting more accessible to all.
And then COVID-19 hit. Donald Trump’s numbers in Pennsylvania took a nosedive. And the mood in the air changed, not just in Pennsylvania, but across the United States.
Almost a year after the 2020 election, Pennsylvania Republicans are still hard at work trying to overturn a perfectly fair and free election. Just this past week, a panel in the Pennsylvania Senate voted to pursue 17 subpoenas that would grant them access to sensitive voter data, including names, birthdays, Social Security numbers, and method of voting. I worry for the safety of that data in the hands of bad actors who are using them to disenfranchise Pennsylvanians.
Let me be clear: Pennsylvania held a fair and free election in 2020, and again during our spring municipal primary in 2021. Voters from Philly to Erie evaluated the candidates and made their voices heard despite a raging pandemic. Once every vote was counted, the candidates with the most votes got sworn into office to make laws. That’s how democracy works.
But Republicans, in Pennsylvania and Texas and California, continue to undermine this democratic process. In Pennsylvania, legislators are trying to pick and choose their voters. In California, a tiny minority of wealthy Republicans exploited a recall process to waste $285 million in taxpayer funds, only for Gavin Newsom to remain governor in a landslide. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott deputized vigilante citizens to enforce his draconian abortion ban.
A democracy that works for working people and acts to solve the crises facing working people is overwhelmingly popular in poll after poll. But Republicans remain hard at work, setting little fires throughout the democratic process to remain in power despite their dwindling popularity.
Pennsylvania is standing on the precipice of a major voter suppression showdown. Together, my Democratic colleagues and I defeated HB 1300, a bill I referred to as “artisanal voter suppression,” disguising its true intention of making voting more difficult. But Republicans continue to find new ways to undermine our most basic democratic rights. And now that they’ve issued subpoenas for sensitive voter data, who knows how long my constituents have until their rights are infringed upon.
The solution has been clear for a long time: The U.S. Senate must do whatever it takes to pass HR 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, including eliminating the filibuster to do so. The very soul of our way of government is at stake, and if we don’t act at this moment, it’ll be too late.
Malcolm Kenyatta has served as the Pennsylvania state representative for the 181st District since 2019. He is running for the U.S. Senate in 2022.