If you find yourself watching images of horrific violence on this first anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol remember this: The attack on American democracy didn’t start on Jan. 6, 2021. And it didn’t end then, either.

Even before the votes were cast in the 2020 election, the insurrection was taking shape in the lies spewed by then-President Donald Trump and his allies. The momentum built after Election Day, as states certified their results making it clear that Joe Biden would be the next president.

The antidemocratic movement turned violent on Jan. 6, when thousands of Trump supporters heeded their leader’s call to storm the Capitol and stop the formal process of counting Electoral College votes. Then it entered a new phase when leaders of the Republican Party took the fiction of a stolen election to their state capitals, where they passed laws that would make it easier for partisan legislatures and election officials to control who gets to vote and whose votes get counted.

Meanwhile, Republican members of the U.S. Senate, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, have blocked every attempt by Congress this year to prevent states like Georgia, Texas, Iowa and Florida from complicating their election laws to make sure that fewer eligible voters, especially Black, Hispanic and young people, will be able to cast a ballot in 2022 and beyond.

Jan 6, 2021, should have been a turning point when all Americans realized that our democracy is fragile and that if it’s not protected, it could be wiped out by a demagogue leading a mob that’s been convinced that elections don’t matter. Instead, we saw the insurrection planners continue to promote the “big lie” that Trump is the rightful president, and it’s working. According to multiple polls, most Republicans believe, against all evidence, that Trump really won in 2020, and he remains the prohibitive favorite to win his party’s nomination in 2024.

Lies about election fraud are being used to chip away at voting rights, the cornerstone of any democracy. We need Congress to act to protect the right to vote, just as it did in 1965 when it passed the landmark Voting Rights Act, which has since been gutted by the Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. We need Collins to buck her party and protect democracy.

Collins has been on the right side of this at times. She was one of the first Republicans to congratulate Biden when it was clear that he had won the election. She was also one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial last February. And, she voted to create a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, which was ultimately defeated by the rest of the Republican caucus using the filibuster rule.

But she has not supported voting rights reforms, claiming that the federal government should not interfere with the way states run their elections. She even defended Georgia’s new election law, which uses neutral-sounding language to target “Black voters with uncanny accuracy,” according to Brennan Center for Justice President Michael Walden.

The Constitution does not give a state the right to discriminate against its citizens. In fact, it instructs Congress to pass federal laws to protect citizens’ voting rights. The biggest threat to democracy is not voter fraud but the lies that undermine faith in fair elections, making violence seem like the best option.

We should not have to remember Jan. 6 as the day that America abandoned the peaceful transfer of power. The legacy of Jan. 6 should be a revitalized democracy, in which every adult citizen has an opportunity to vote, either in person or by absentee ballot, and in which those votes are counted honestly.

Sen. Collins belongs on the side of the voters, not the mob. It’s time for her to support voting rights before it’s too late.


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