voice for democracy

Opinion | If Biden fails to secure voting rights, it will be his most lasting legacy – The Washington Post

When President Biden’s three-legged economic agenda (his American Rescue Plan, infrastructure deal and Build Back Better package) is complete and the debt-ceiling crisis averted, the single-most important item for the administration will be voting rights reform. Try as they might to characterize voter suppression as solvable with strong turnout and vague paeans to voting rights, Biden and his team will be judged a failure by democracy defenders if they blow this opportunity to secure elections.
The White House has frustrated voting rights advocates with its lack of urgency on three major threats. First, Republicans have held fast to the “big lie” of the stolen 2020 election, thereby casting attempts to overturn the results as a dress rehearsal if things do not go their way in future elections. This specifically heightens the need to reform areas of ambiguity in the Electoral Count Act, which future John Eastmans and Mike Pences will find irresistible to exploit. Given how many Republicans are indoctrinated to election myths, as multiple polls show, we need firm guardrails to protect the sanctity of elections. Republicans’ ongoing encouragement of violence as a legitimate political tool has also convinced MAGA forces that election results are neither final nor inviolate.
Second, Republican-led state legislatures have passed laws not only to suppress voting, but also to corrupt the ballot tabulation process. Whether by setting the stage to displace nonpartisan election officials with partisan legislative oversight, creating new avenues to raise spurious election fraud claims or devising “fraudits” to delegitimize results, Republicans are abiding by the adage that it does not matter who votes, only who counts the votes.
Third, the Supreme Court’s systematic destruction of central pillars of the Voting Rights Act — first Section 5 and more recently Section 2 — makes the enforcement of voting rights exceedingly difficult. The Justice Department needs better tools to ensure access to the ballot and defend the rights of minority communities.
None of the needed reforms — protecting ballot access (e.g., limits on wait times, early and absentee ballots); securing election integrity (e.g., audit standards, guaranteeing state legislatures don’t overturn the popular vote for president); and enforcing voting rights (e.g., reauthorization of Section 5) — will happen without filibuster reform. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) can blather on about how the filibuster is essential to democracy (nonsensical as that may be), but 10 Republicans who will support any meaningful voting reform do not exist. Republicans have cast their lot with those who resort to voting suppression and intimidation to maintain power; they have no interest in making sure every legal voter can cast a ballot and that every legal vote is counted accurately.
The window for voting reform is narrowing as Democrats head into a midterm election year. The more likely a Republican House majority becomes (spelling an end to voting rights reform), the greater the risk of shenanigans in the 2024 presidential election and of anti-majoritarian rule for a generation or more. Now, then, is the time to impress upon Biden and Senate Democrats the need for filibuster reform to protect our democracy.
To that end, a group of 150 scholars have crafted a persuasive letter, laying out the stakes. “We urge all members of Congress to pass the bill, if necessary by suspending the Senate filibuster rule and using a simple majority vote,” the authors write. “This is no ordinary moment in the course of our democracy. It is a moment of great peril and risk.” They continue:
The scholars recall that critical voting rights protections — especially the 14th and 15th Amendments — were accomplished on party-line votes. Moreover, they point out, voting rights has become a party-line issue only because one party has attacked the underpinnings of democracy. The letter warns of “an extended period of minority rule, which a majority of the country would reject as undemocratic and illegitimate.”
The scholars conclude poignantly:
It is far from clear that Biden will persuade his former Senate colleagues to “uphold the Senate’s noblest tradition of preserving and strengthening American democracy” by finding a path around the filibuster. What is indisputable, however, is that without filibuster reform and passage of voting rights protection, severe damage to U.S. democracy will become Biden’s most lasting legacy.
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