Jun 22, 2021 - Podcasts

The Democrats’ uphill battle on voting rights

The Senate is voting today on whether or not to move forward with the "For the People Act," a sweeping election reform bill that’s been at the top of the Democratic wish list for months. But the vote likely will not go their way.

  • Plus, ranked-choice voting in the New York City mayoral race, explained.
  • And, remote hiring gets complicated in Colorado.

Guests: Axios' Stef Kight, Glen Johnson and John Frank.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected].

We have a new feature to text Niala directly! Text questions, comments and story ideas as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:


NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, June 22nd.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: Rank-choice voting, explained. Plus, remote hiring gets complicated in Colorado.

But first, the Democrats’ uphill battle on voting rights is today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: The Senate is voting today on whether or not to move forward with the For the People Act, a sweeping election reform bill that's been at the top of the Democratic wishlist for months. But, the vote today likely is not going to go their way. Here to tell us what she's watching for in the Senate today is Axios' political reporter Stef Kight. Good morning, Stef.

STEF KIGHT: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: So the vote today is on whether or not to even have a debate over the bill. Why are we expecting that this won't go forward?

STEF: We're expecting this won't go forward because Democrats need 10 Republicans to join them to move forward on this bill. And this is a bill that Republicans have largely not been on board for at all. And the person we're really watching is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who has said he doesn't support the bill itself but who might be willing to get on board to at least debate the bill.

The big thing we're looking at here is whether we see a sign of unity among Democrats for this bill. And if we really see all Democrats come behind this bill, we're going to see pressure mount even more toward breaking the filibuster.

NIALA: So Stef, remind us why the filibuster is important and how many votes are needed to end that procedure.

STEF: Right now, the filibuster makes it so that you have to have 60 votes in order to pass legislation and when the Senate is split with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, that makes it really hard to get things done. But in order to change the filibuster rule, you only need a simple majority. You only need 51 votes in the Senate.

NIALA: So explain to me how the filibuster is connected to the For the People Act.

STEF: Well, the strategy here is Democrats are really hyping up how important this voting bill is. They're pointing to all of the bills that are being introduced in states across the country that would make it harder to vote. They're pointing to former President Trump's sewing distrust in our election systems.

So they're making this a really, really important issue. And by doing this, they're saying: "We need to pass this. Democrats need to pass this to protect democracy, to protect our elections, our electoral system and it's so important." They're arguing that they need to end the filibuster, they need to do whatever it takes to pass this bill.

NIALA: What is the plan for the entire Democratic Party if they don't get the filibuster or the voting rights?

STEF: Well, when it comes to pushing back against the Republican efforts we've seen to restrict access to voting in many states, it's really hard for Democrats to do too much. In a lot of these key states, Republicans control the state legislatures and state legislatures are the ones who get to pass these voting rules. And they're also the people who get to redraw district lines this year. And so that creates this cyclical effect where if Democrats don't have control of the state legislature, they also don't have control over voting rules or district maps which then can then make it even harder for them to win those seats.

NIALA: Stef Kight is a political reporter for Axios.

And later this week, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi with more on voting rights. We’ll be back in 15 seconds.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I'm Niala Boodhoo. So speaking of voting, New York City residents are headed to the polls today for the mayoral primary. They're using ranked-choice voting. New York is the largest spot in the U.S. to use this type of election method. It's kind of complicated. So we asked our own Glen Johnson to give us a super fast explainer. Okay, Glen, GO!

GLEN: Rank choice voting is a system election officials have devised to try and ensure that whoever wins an election has the broadest level of support. Instead of casting a single vote for a single candidate, voters using a ranked-choice system select a set number of candidates in the order of their preference in New York's primary on Tuesday, voters can pick up to five candidates.

Once the votes are cast, they'll be counted in rounds. If a single candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, that person will be the winner outright. But if that isn't the case, the last place candidate will drop out of the race and their votes will be redistributed to the other candidates based on the rankings that the voters had given them on their ballot.

This process will continue until there's only two candidates left and the winner will emerge as the one with the most votes from these reallocated ballots.

NIALA: Axios politics editor, Glen Johnson, a master at smart brevity. We'll keep you posted on the results of the New York race.

More and more companies are offering remote options when they're hiring, as job seekers are looking for flexibility in where and how they work. In Colorado, though, a new law that was meant to help people get fair pay is actually keeping Coloradans out of the running for some remote jobs. Axios’ John Frank is here with more from Denver. Hey, John, let's start with this Colorado law. What was it meant to do?

JOHN: The law is called the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, and its intention was to level the playing field, particularly for women and people of color, when it comes to employment discrimination and salaries. It has multiple parts to it, the one in contention here is that employers post job listings with a salary range. It's required to post that salary range and some employers just don't want to do it.

NIALA: And so employers don't want to do it, how does that affect people in Colorado?

JOHN: What you're seeing on a handful of job listings online is some companies are hiring remote workers, but at the very bottom of the job listing will be this disclaimer that says: ‘No job applicants from Colorado can apply for this job.’ It's specifically excluding remote workers from Colorado. Now the labor department here argues that some companies are misconstruing the law because If you don't have a base here in Colorado, you actually don't have to comply with it. So out of state employers aren't necessarily subject to this, if they're just looking for a remote worker here in Colorado.

NIALA: How is the government responding to companies that are telling people from Colorado, ‘you shouldn't apply’?

JOHN: They're defending the law with all they have, and the law gives them enforcement authority. So right now the state Labor Department is investigating a complaint against at least one of these companies who's excluding Colorado candidates from a remote work opportunity. Now they refuse to talk about where that investigation is at, but they couldn't have a decision here soon.

NIALA: John, what does this situation tell you about the labor situation in this country right now?

JOHN: Well, the pandemic is definitely shifting how we look at work and it comes at the same time that workers are demanding more benefits. Better pay, in particular. And what you're seeing here is just a collision of these two components at the same time, only accelerated by this new workforce we're entering in this post-pandemic era.

NIALA: Axios’ John Frank in Denver. Thanks, John.

JOHN: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Today marks one year since the first episode of Axios Today. So much has happened in that time, for us and for you our listeners.

MARIE: Axios Today has been so intertwined with me moving to a new city, starting my first year of teaching all during our pandemic. So congratulations, we both made it through this crazy first year.

NIALA: Crazy, yes. We covered an election, the historic - global - protests after the murder of George Floyd, - the January 6th attack on the Capitol and so much more. And the entire time, you’ve been right there with us.

MARIE: I take you along on my morning walk every morning around town. And so it's great to hear your voice and to be along with you.

NIALA: My favorite part of this job is when I hear from you all - both the things you love about the show and what you think we should be doing better. So as we enter year two -- please keep it up! And there’s a new way to be in touch - you can text me! We’ll put the phone number in our show notes, but here it is: 202-918-4893. I’m so excited to continue the conversation with you this year.

That’s all for today --

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks as always for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper