Carmeron Langford

HOUSTON (CN) — Moved by a raft of legislation meant to diminish turnout at the ballot box, a bipartisan group of U.S. mayors laid out a goal Tuesday of making voting in America as easy as getting a glass of water.

“It’s about voting, period. … When the basic question of voting comes up, it’s not about Democrat or Republican. It’s about the fact that you’re a United States citizen,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Tuesday at the National Nonpartisan Conversation on Voting Rights. “We’re not supporting any initiative or any candidate. It’s about voting.”

Backed by the National League of Cities, a group comprising leaders from 2,700 U.S. municipalities, Hancock launched the conference last year to counter what he saw as an alarming trend: In 2021’s legislative sessions, more than 400 bills were introduced in 49 states to restrict voter access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Many of them passed in Republican-led states and statehouse efforts to curtail voting have continued this year.

Hancock said he believes voting is an obligation, not a right, because his Black ancestors marched, bled and died for the right to vote.

“It is our foundational value and anything that impedes our full exercise thereof needs to be obliterated as fast as possible,” said the three-term Denver mayor.

Municipal, faith and business leaders joined with the heads of LGBTQ, youth voting and disability rights organizations, sharing ideas on how to increase voter registration, education and turnout in panel discussions for the three-day conference, with many emphasizing the leading role of local government as partisan gridlock in Congress has impeded reforms at the national level.

Headlining the event are three Democratic mayors: Hancock, Sylvester Turner of Houston and Regina Romero of Tucson, Arizona. Beside them stand three Republican mayors: David Holt of Oklahoma City, John Giles of Mesa, Arizona, and Acquanetta Warren of Fontana, California.

Warren said she came to learn ways to increase voter turnout from her peers.

“Best practices are something that every local person always looks at,” she said Tuesday at a press conference touting the gathering.

“Why reinvent the wheel when you can steal from great mayors right here? So these types of discussions become best practices and before you know it, the entire nation is on one page,” she added.

Warren might have oversold the prospects for national unity, as the conference takes place at a time of deep distrust in U.S. elections. Polls show about two-thirds of Republican voters — influenced by former President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories — do not believe that Joe Biden legitimately defeated Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Despite their professed wariness of the system, many of Trump’s acolytes are running for office and have prevailed in primary elections. In this year’s midterms, 60% of American voters will have an election denier running for Congress or a statewide office on their ballots, reports the statistical analysis news site FiveThirtyEight.

Expressing puzzlement at how U.S. elections became so partisan, Turner, the conference host, noted that two Texans from opposing parties had a hand in the country’s landmark voting legislation: President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat, convinced Congress in 1965 to pass the Voting Rights Act, and George W. Bush, a Republican, signed a bill reauthorizing the act in 2006.

Though Trump’s effect on the electorate loomed large over the conference, none of the speakers said his name Tuesday.

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers avoided saying it even as he described Trump contacting him after Biden won the Grand Canyon State by around 10,000 votes in the 2020 election.

Bowers said he got a call from “the president and Rudy” Giuliani, then Trump’s attorney, who together asked him to convene an Arizona House hearing for lawmakers to hear evidence of voter fraud and to back Trump’s efforts to replace the state’s Electoral College electors so they would support him instead of Biden.

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