Last entry I detailed the recent stepped-up attack by Republican-led legislatures on voting rights and the importance of this fight. Here, I plan to detail what precipitated the failing vote in the Senate on the For the People Act and where the fight goes from here.
In response to the numerous attacks on voting rights being introduced in state legislatures across the nation, in March, the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act. The bill took broad aim at expanding access to the ballot box by creating nationwide automatic voter registration, restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people, expanding early voting, and modernizing the actual voting machines. In addition, the House-passed bill sought to further reform the influence of big money in politics. Not a single Republican voted in favor of the bill and only one Democrat voted against it, foreshadowing the fight in the more closely divided Senate where 60 votes are required to overcome a filibuster by the minority party.
From the start, it was clear that Republicans were likely to prevent the bill, by way of a filibuster, from even coming up for debate on the floor. Moreover, with the Senate split 50/50, Democrats could not afford any opposition from within the party.
Initially, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia opposed the bill who insisted such legislation must be accomplished with bipartisan input and support. Manchin announced his intent to craft a bill that both parties would support. "I'm going to fight for this, and I think the Republicans will fight for this and understand we must come together on a voting rights bill in a bipartisan way," he said.
Sen. Manchin then proposed a compromise intended to bring Republicans on board. In addition to the previous reforms, the bill would now also require Voter-ID in all 50 states, long a talking point for the GOP. The proposed compromise did not work.
While ultimately Sen. Manchin did vote in favor of advancing the bill, all 50 Republicans voted against opening debate on the Senate floor. Yes, you read that correctly, they stopped the bill from even being discussed.
While most certainly a setback, it is possible that Republicans, in showing their stubbornness to work in a bipartisan fashion, maybe moving Democrats one step closer to the nuclear option: eliminating the filibuster. Sen. Manchin, along with Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema, has been one of the few Democrats to loudly voice support for maintaining the procedure and this vote will undoubtedly increase pressure on him to reconsider.
Sen. Sinema reiterated her opposition to ending the filibuster in an opinion piece after the For the People Act failed to advance. Her concerns should not be easily dismissed. While the Democrats currently control the Senate, that could easily change next election pushing the party into a minority powerless to stop Republican legislation.
So, where do we go from here? Obviously, elimination of the filibuster is one possibility, that would likely lead to the passage of some form of voting rights reform, but also potentially lead to long-term unintended consequences. Another option is pursuing more limited reforms that have a better chance of achieving bipartisan support.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly in the short term, the federal government must not abdicate its role in ensuring fair elections. In this spirit, within days of the defeat of the For the People Act, the Department of Justice sued to invalidate the recently passed Georgia law that it says infringes on the rights of black voters and prohibits the provision of food or water to voters waiting in line.
Clearly, the fight is not and cannot be over. If Republicans are able to manipulate elections to continue wielding disproportionate power to their dwindling demographics, all other activism is for nothing. This is the single most important political issue we face as it impacts any other issue one can think of. We must remain attentive and undeterred if our democracy is to survive.
"I'm going to fight for this, and I think the Republicans will fight for this and understand we must come together on a voting rights bill in a bipartisan way," he said.
Phone: (714) 362-0157