Former North Carolina state Senator Erica Smith, running for the US Senate, said Congress’ failure to pass voting rights protections and abolish the filibuster are disenfranchising voters.

This is Part 3 of a Cardinal & Pine series, in which top Democrats vying to represent North Carolina in the 2022 US Senate outline how they’ll protect our votes. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Lawmakers from North Carolina and around the country converged on Washington DC last week to again make the push for the Senate to pass voting protections. Here’s what the Democratic primary candidate, Erica Smith from North Carolina, is saying about the recent efforts at the capitol to pass HR1, otherwise known as the For The People Act. An expansive proposal to broaden access and remove barriers to the vote for all eligible Americans, among other things, HR1 would eliminate barriers to voting like complex voter registration and limited in-person voting hours, increase access to absentee and mail-in voting, and enhance support for secure elections. 

After graduating from North Carolina A&T and the Howard University School of Divinity, Smith became a clergywoman and teacher before serving in the North Carolina senate from 2015-2020. While representing District 3 as a state senator, Smith also co-chaired the Women’s Caucus and was a vice chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. 

C&P: Why should we be talking about the For The People Act right now?

Erica Smith: [Lawmakers are converging at Washington DC] after months of watching legislatures across the nation push voter suppression bills. We know that when people show up at the ballot box, that is a threat to the wealthy, to the corporations, to the dark money-backed candidates and politicians. And so I am thankful that we have people rising up and pushing and demanding that they have their constitutional right to a free and fair election process, that they have the right to their ballots and that their ballots get counted.

C&P: Can you describe the consequences of restricting voting rights?

Erica Smith: We’re on our 100 counties in 100 days tour, and when we’re talking to average, everyday voters, engaging them where they are, they’re concerned about putting food on their table. They’re concerned about the rise in the Delta variant and them having limited access to healthcare. They want Medicare for all. And so what we are learning on this campaign trail, when we’re talking to people at the local grocery store, at the local farmer’s market, [is that] people are really struggling, and they’re wondering why. They work hard every day to pay their taxes, and their taxes pay the salaries for 535 people in Washington, DC: 100 US senators and 435 members of the House. And they’re wondering why their congresspeople can’t go to work for them and deliver for them on behalf of the American people.

We know that the filibuster is standing in the way of delivering good quality policies that are going to create some structural change for people in this nation, that’s going to respect that dignity of work, that’s going to protect the right to vote. And these people that we talk to want to end the filibuster and any other obstruction tool that is keeping Congress from delivering on a bold agenda that will create good-paying jobs, millions of good-paying jobs, and give the universal health care that people deserve.

C&P: How will you address voting rights if you’re elected? 

Erica Smith: I’ve been the only candidate who has stood firm on abolishing the filibuster. We have seen filibusters be used throughout decades and decades to deny minorities of their voting rights, of their civil rights, of LGBTQ rights, of workers rights. And so the unique thing about the filibuster now is it’s stopping HR1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I think that it is just cynicism of the highest order for a chamber to honor the life of John Lewis, honor what he stood for and then at the very same time turn around and not be able to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, voting rights bill, that is proposed. He gave his life to that. He was beaten within an inch of his life. He crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge to fight for voting rights for all. And we have a Congress who will not pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to restore voter protections for millions of Americans.

What I am urging people to do is to understand the filibuster has been used in the past to deny rights. It came about as a campaign out of Jim Crow segregation and Reconstruction to deny minorities access to the ballot and fair representation. And you look at it now, it is 2021 and we are seeing the filibuster stand in the way of the For The People Act. The For The People Act will protect voters. It will take dark money out of politics. It will also protect us against gerrymandering. And so we the people of America deserve HR1. We must abolish the filibuster.

We cannot continue to compromise. Other candidates are so frustrating. They don’t know where they stand with the filibuster because they’ve never been disenfranchised by the filibuster. But as a Black woman in the South, I know the damage of the filibuster and I know it has stood in the way of us delivering Medicare, universal healthcare for all through Medicare for All, being able to pass the Green New Deal. So we need to abolish the filibuster or abolish democracy as we know it. If you are for democracy, then you will support ending the filibuster and delivering on a bold agenda that we, as hard working Americans, deserve.

*Quotes were edited for brevity and clarity.