After the historic defeat of the Democrats on the right to vote, what happens next? | american politics
For just over a year, America has been facing a democratic crisis unprecedented in recent history.
While Republicans have been spreading lies about the 2020 presidential election, confidence in it remains staggeringly low and around 1 in 3 Americans now to believe Joe Biden was not legitimately elected. Republicans who claim the election was stolen are trying to grab key election administration roles, sparking unprecedented alarm that a future election could be voided.
And after an election with record turnout, Republicans pushed a wave of new laws making it harder to vote, imposing new restrictions on longstanding policies that have gone unchallenged for years. “We face the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said in July.
On Wednesday night, Democrats’ greatest hope of blunting that threat faltered in a historic defeat as Republicans used the filibuster — a technical Senate rule that requires 60 votes to advance most legislation — to prevent passage of a voting rights bill.
For months, Democrats had been pushing the legislation as an antidote to the anti-democratic disease plaguing America. The bill would have been the most dramatic expansion of the franchise in a generation. It would have banned partisan gerrymandering, shielded election officials from partisan interference, required early voting and same-day registration, and restored the prior permission provision at the heart of the Voting Rights Act.
Politically, the loss was extremely deadly for Biden, who has spent a huge amount of his political capital in recent weeks to find himself on the losing side. And – even worse – although the measure was blocked by 50 Republicans who refused to even negotiate around it, the moment was one of obvious weakness for Democrats. The party controls both houses of Congress but appears powerless as two of its conservative senators have joined Republicans in preserving the filibuster and condemning the legislation.
But the deeper issues of failure go far beyond politics.
It was a time when an American system of government, crippled by deep partisanship and obscure rule, turned its back on the growing threat of a dangerous anti-democratic tide. It’s a moment that will mystify future historians, a group of scholars warned in November.
“To lose our democracy but preserve the filibuster in its present form – in which a minority can block popular legislation without even having to speak up – would be a short-sighted blunder that future historians will never cease to understand,” they wrote.
What happens next is not exactly clear.
Biden suggested the 2022 election could be illegitimate absent congressional action, a claim the White House quickly backed down on Thursday. “He explained that the results would be illegitimate if the states did what the former president asked them to do after the 2020 elections: throw away the ballots and cancel the results after the fact,” tweeted Jen Psaki, the attaché. White House press release.
Cliff Albright, co-founder of the group Black Voters Matter, said Wednesday’s vote was “disappointing”, but said his group would continue to push for significant voting reforms. He noted how successful pressure from his group and others had been in getting Biden and other Democrats to support the filibuster amendment and pointed out that historic past campaigns to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act needed to keep pushing after setbacks.
“These debates and votes were important, to record them. So this is a victory for the movement,” he said. “I don’t think this moment will be forgotten.”
Tiffany Muller, president and executive director of Let America Vote/End Citizens United, also promised that her group would “regroup” and “continue” to push electoral reform forward.
“We are going to fight this fight in the United States. And we’re going to continue to elect champions who put our democracy first, and we’re going to make sure that we hold Republicans accountable at the polls in 2022,” she said. “There is no doubt that last night’s vote means that the best option at the federal level is no longer available to us. But we’re always going to ask ourselves, ‘Are there ways to get other laws passed at the federal level?’
Politically, Democrats have pledged to keep fighting.
Anticipating what could be a midterm message to frustrated voters on Thursday, Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the failure in the Senate was proof that more Democrats were needed in the US Senate.
“We can send more Democrats to the US Senate and give President Biden and Vice President Harris the votes they need to pass voting rights legislation. We can show those who stand in the way of the right to vote that their actions have consequences,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who has introduced a filibuster plan, said in a statement he would continue to push for reform of the rule.
“We fell short. But that’s not the end of the story,” he said. “When I arrived in the Senate, 48 senators voting to change the filibuster seemed like a distant dream, something that would never happen. We’re not there yet, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been.
With sweeping voting reform stalled, there appears to be some bipartisan appetite in Congress to change the Voter Count Act, a confusing 19th-century law that sets out procedures for counting electoral votes. Trump’s legal team planned to use the law’s ambiguities to try to overturn the election, and election scholars have said for years that it needed to be addressed. “There’s a good win there,” Manchin said. after the vote Wednesday. “I mean, my God, that’s what caused the uprising.”
But Democrats have rejected fixing the law alone as an acceptable solution, saying fixing how votes are counted is unacceptable if voting rules are rigged. It would be a bit like deciding to fix an unreliable scoreboard in a basketball game where the rules are rigged against a team. Muller also said she was skeptical of the sincerity of Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, in wanting to change the law.
“We are in favor of a reform of the law. But that won’t be enough to protect voters in all those states. It does nothing to fight these voter suppression laws,” she said.
Meanwhile, Congressional inaction is also likely to encourage those who seek to undermine democracy to be even more aggressive, Sherrilyn Ifill, director-attorney of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told Congress on Thursday.
“In 2021, we have seen a repeat of history – a steady drop of old poison in new bottles. Whereas in times gone by, discriminatory intent in voting restrictions was dressed in ideals such as the securing a more informed and invested electorate, the new justification is the fight against imaginary voter fraud, a phantom conjured up only to attack,” she said, according to prepared remarks.
“In the absence of a response from Congress, those intent on overturning the next election by continuing to raise doubts about 2020 become more brazen, not less,” she added.
Eric Foner, a Columbia historian who studies the Reconstruction era in US history, said it’s hard to predict how future historians will remember this moment. He said there were parallel times in history when congressional efforts to protect voting rights were thwarted by filibuster, such as in 1890 when federal vote protections backed by Henry Cabot Lodge were defeated after an obstruction in the senate.
“Historically, the filibuster has been used for one reason only: that is to prevent legislation supporting black rights,” he said. “Let’s not try to glorify the filibuster as having a reasonable reason for existence other than to allow a minority to rule over a majority.”