On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill submitted by Democrats to overhaul the way the United States conducts its elections. Due to the filibuster, 60 Senators were needed for the bill to pass, meaning that 10 Republican Senators had to cross the aisle. However, not a single Republican voted to advance the bill, leaving the legislation effectively dead.
The bill, named by the Democrats as the “Freedom to Vote” Act, is a revised version from the initial H.R 1 bill voting overhaul that Democrats presented at the beginning of the year. Although the legislation stripped some of the provisions of the bill with the supposed objective of convincing Republicans to support the bill, the version that was voted down did include many measures that were widely disapproved by Republicans such as mandating states to allow voters to register in election day, mandating 15 days of early voting, restore voting rights to felons who completed their sentences, among other things.
Among the few provisons that were eliminated from the original H.R 1 bill was that which reduced the number of members in the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) from six to five members and another proposal which would allow third-parties to return ballots, a practice that Republicans call “ballot harvesting” and have decried as a “notable threat to election security”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dismissed the claims that the new bill was a compromise, saying that “The latest umpteenth iteration is only a compromise in the sense that the left and the far left argued among themselves about exactly how much power to grab and in which areas”.
Democrats accuse Republicans of “voter suppression”
Democrats have accused Republicans of supporting voter suppression by not allowing the bill to pass, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) saying that the decision by Republicans to filibuster the bill is an “endorsement of the horrid new voter suppression and election subversion laws across the country”.
Democrats have long accused Republicans of imposing “Jim Crow 2.0” in the states governed by them, with President Biden even accusing (falsely) that the controversial Georgia Election Law would “end voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over”, a claim that was even debunked by Washington Post fact-checkers.
Democrats have accused many of these legislations as intended to suppress the minority vote, a charge that Republican officials have energetically denied. For example, Secretary of State Brad Raffesnperger, who feuded with Trump over the 2020 election results in the Peach State, defended Georgia’s election law from claims made by Democrats that the bill would suppress the vote, saying that the law actually increases access to vote by mandating drop boxes for ballots into law and expanding weekend voting.
Raffensperger also said that while many have said that requesting voter ID to vote would reduce the number of people voting, in Georgia voter registration and turnout has soared since the implementation of strict voter ID laws in 2006. This claim that Voter ID would have a significant effect suppressing minority vote has also been disproven by a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Opponents of the bill have claimed that the legislation is egregious, with the Brookings Institution saying that the law is “an assault on our democracy” as it would “reduce the number of ballot boxes, shrinking the window for early voting, adding additional photo ID requirements, and allowing state officials to circumvent the work of county election officials”.
Pressure to ditch Filibuster
The failure of the Democrat’s electoral bill has highlighted again the important role the Filibuster plays in the legislative process. Had the Filibuster not existed, then the democrats would have been more than likely to pass their electoral reform bill through Congress while having an extremely tight majority in both Houses of Congress.
Although everyone agrees that the Filibuster is an important role in the American legislative process, the fight is between those who think that the practice is good or bad. Progressives have been pressuring Democrat moderates (specifically Senators Manchin and Sinema) to vote to end the Filibuster, while Conservatives like Mitch McConnell have defended the Filibuster for most pieces of legislation even when former President Trump pressured him to eliminate it.
The death of the electoral overhaul bill has reignited the debate, with Megan Hatcher-Mays, the director of a network of progressive activists, asking Manchin if he was more loyal to “our democracy and our country (…) or to an arcane Senate rule”.
Conservative alliance of activists, Freedom Works, has stated the opposite. The president of the organization, Adam Brandon, said in a statement emailed to the press that “This failed cloture vote emphasizes the importance of the Senate filibuster as a safeguard against runaway legislators in Washington seeking radical change with slim majorities”.
The latest failed attempt by Democrats to pass a voting overhaul bill shows the total divide between both parties regarding the single most important issue of any democracy: how to vote.