For the third time this year, Senate Republicans last week filibustered legislation that would have protected voting rights from GOP efforts around the country to restrict them. Democrats unanimously supported it this time, after the measure was scaled back to satisfy moderates. Yet the minority party was able to thwart the will of the Senate majority — not to mention the majority of the country — on an issue more critical than ever after former President Donald Trump’s unprecedented attempt to overturn last year’s election results.
How much more evidence do Democratic holdouts need that the filibuster is damaging democracy before they’ll finally agree to dump it?
America’s democracy is in dangerous straits right now. Trump’s attempted overthrow of the election was an outrage that should have, finally, broken his spell over the Republican Party. Instead, much of the party sees it as incentive to restrict voting rights in hopes of steering future elections to their favor.
In Arizona, Texas and elsewhere, Republicans are passing laws to make voting more difficult, especially for urban-dwellers who tend to vote Democratic. Some of the state-level changes would allow Legislatures to effectively commandeer the election process if they don’t like where the vote is going — the very maneuver that Trump demanded last time but couldn’t get under existing state laws.
Federal voting rights guarantees are needed to counter this threat. But efforts by Democrats to pass such guarantees have been stymied both by moderate Democrats, most notably Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and also by Republicans, who have stood in lockstep to protect red states’ rights to restrict the vote.
The latest version of the Freedom to Vote Act had been watered down to get Manchin on board. The bill would have made Election Day a national holiday, would have guaranteed access to early voting and mail-in voting and (in a concession to conservatives) would have required identification to vote. Those compromises were enough to get Manchin’s support, and he spent weeks trying to get some Republicans to join him.
But in the end, every single Republican senator spurned Manchin’s earnest (and, frankly, naïve) overtures of bipartisanship, and opposed even these mild, common-sense reforms.
America voted for a Democratic Senate, albeit with a bare single-vote majority. But because of the filibuster, an archaic and nonsensical process found nowhere in the Constitution, the Republican minority can prevent the majority from protecting the rights of voters who favor voting-rights reforms.
GOP filibuster abuse has become so brazen that even President Joe Biden, long a filibuster defender, now is open to reforming it. As we’ve argued before, other institutionalists like Manchin should get over their misplaced nostalgia for a procedural quirk that never should have been in the Senate to begin with, and get rid of the filibuster. Democracy itself may depend on it.