Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, has indicated that he plans to schedule a vote for Wednesday to open debate on a new voting rights bill, the Freedom to Vote Act.
The bill would set national standards for early voting, expand voting by mail, allow the use of more forms of voter identification, make Election Day a federal holiday and institute measures to counter voter suppression tactics. It would also automate voter registration, force states to give voters the option to register on Election Day and offer safeguards against voter purges. Finally, it would overhaul portions of the campaign finance system, prohibit partisan gerrymandering and prevent the politicized removal of election officials, among other changes.
This is a compromise bill, but it is still a good bill that would go a long way toward protecting the country’s electoral system and preventing Republicans around the country from instituting a new electoral Jim Crow.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia — who opposed an earlier, bolder version of the bill and who opposes getting rid of the filibuster — helped craft the compromise version. He’s now invested. (This was a shrewd tactical move by Democrats, I must say.) Manchin is lobbying Republicans to support the bill — to little avail, unfortunately.
The bill is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed — all 50 Democratic senators, as well as 10 Republicans — to overcome a Republican filibuster.
What happens when Republicans filibuster the bill? Will Manchin be willing to let a bill that he helped write go down? Or will he alter or eliminate the filibuster?
This is a once in a generation moment, one pivotal to the very survival of the country as we know it.
Donald Trump and the Republican officials enthralled and entranced by him have elevated the lie of election fraud to such a degree that many Republican voters consider it one of their top priorities, which in turn gives Republican officials cover to unleash their oppression.
At an Iowa rally last week, Trump said of his election lie: “And I’m telling you, the single biggest issue, as bad as the border is, it’s horrible, horrible what they’re doing. They’re destroying our country. As bad as that is, the single biggest issue, the issue that gets the most, the most pull, the most respect, the biggest cheers is talking about the election fraud of 2020 presidential election. Nobody’s ever seen anything like it.”
That last line may well be true.
Republicans around the country have taken the distrust Trump has created and woven it into policy. They are using the lie that the electoral system was rigged to literally rig the electoral system.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, since January, “19 states have enacted 33 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote,” making 2021 an “unprecedented year” for these bills. And those were just the ones that passed. As the center pointed out, “More than 425 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.”
This season of oppression shouldn’t be considered a one-and-done proposition. It is very likely the beginning of an era of oppression — unless Congress intervenes.
Republican legislatures are right now drawing redistricting maps that lock in their advantages, by drawing districts that advantage white voters and disadvantage nonwhite ones — just take a look at what’s happening in Texas. The road to Democrats’ maintaining control of both the House and the Senate was already difficult, but with widespread voter suppression, the path looks even more daunting.
If Trump decides to run again in 2024 (and he is already hinting that he will), voter suppression will up his chances of winning. With Trump once again in the White House, a Republican Congress would be able to federalize voter suppression. (If they found themselves in the position the Democrats do now, they wouldn’t bat an eye at eliminating the filibuster to have their way.)
Republican groups are already working to draft legislation so that they have it ready to introduce in Congress if Trump is elected. Brooke Rollins, the president of the America First Policy Institute and a former policy director in the Trump White House, recently told Politico that “if we do our job right, we will have a package of model legislation” to bring federal policy in line with restrictive states’.
For Democrats, this voting rights bill is a top priority, but from now until something is passed, it should be the only priority. In another time, I would think that the infrastructure and reconciliation bills should take precedence. It’s impossible to argue that we don’t need those things. It is also impossible to argue that many of the provisions would not disproportionately benefit poor people and Black and Hispanic people.
But even if you have glistening infrastructure in a fascist state, you are still in a fascist state. If you get two years of community college free in a fascist state, you are still in a fascist state. If more people get broadband access, more people will be able to search for what it means to live in a fascist state.
Protecting ballot access is the only thing that matters right now.
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