Nov 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

"Midnight is approaching” to pass voting rights protections

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"Defenders of democracy in America still have a slim window of opportunity to act. But time is ticking away, and midnight is approaching," according to more than 150 top scholars of U.S. democracy in a new push to temporarily suspend the Senate filibuster and pass voting rights protections on a simple majority vote.

Driving the news: Their unified front comes amid a short break in the legislative action on Capitol Hill, with the start of the Thanksgiving recess and after the House passage of President Biden's "Build Back Better" social spending package.

  • When Congress returns, it'll be scrambling to avert a government shutdown, raise the debt ceiling and pass the annual defense authorization bill.
  • And Democrats will be trying to keep BBB alive in the Senate, where just one skeptic in their bare-majority ranks — such as West Virginia's Joe Manchin — could have the power to sink it.

What they're saying: Those challenges shouldn't distract from the urgency of passing the compromise Freedom to Vote Act before midterm elections begin, the group says in its public letter.

  • Written by scholars from Duke to Stanford universities, it touches on former President Trump's "Big Lie" and some GOP efforts to empower political officials to overturn legitimate election results.
  • "The partisan politicization of what has long been trustworthy, non-partisan administration of elections represents a clear and present threat to the future of electoral democracy in the United States."
  • Doing nothing would undermine free and fair elections and "likely result in an extended period of minority rule, which a majority of the country would reject as undemocratic and illegitimate," the letter says.

Between the lines: Manchin is the one senator most likely to decide whether Democrats do suspend the legislative filibuster, at least in this one case.

  • The Freedom to Vote Act was actually Manchin's answer to a voting rights expansion by Democrats. But Republicans used the filibuster last month to block his compromise from advancing.
  • The bill included provisions to make Election Day a public holiday, have same day voter registration at all polling places by 2024 and ensure at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections.
  • Manchin has been an active defender of the filibuster. But Democrats can't pass the bill with a simple majority unless they suspend the rule.

Read the letter.

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