Voting in America

Alan Zendell, September 14, 2021

As we enter the home stretch of President Biden’s first year in office, the most important thing on his agenda is passing a federal voting rights bill. History will show that the legacy of Donald Trump was to attempt to change our country in two important ways, both of them fraught with peril for our future. When Roger Ailes of Fox News convinced Trump to run for president with his news channel’s full support, his argument was that there were millions of unheard Americans who desired a shift toward far-right politics, and the way to win was to create a sharp dividing line between them and everyone else.

The resulting divisiveness and ultra-partisanship that has paralyzed our Congress are even sharper today than when Trump began his campaign in 2015. One of the clearest indicators of that is attempts by red-state legislatures to tilt the scales in future elections in favor of right-wing extremists. Until now, they have succeeded in spite of the fact that new state laws which target minority and immigrant populations who traditionally vote Democratic represent only a minority view among those states’ residents. Polls taken throughout 2021 show that in most red states, legislators are much further to the right than the voters they represent.

Earlier this year, House Democrats, with no Republican support, passed the For the People Act, which would incontrovertibly establish voting rules in federal law that maximize access to voting for all American citizens. But the House bill had no chance of passing the Senate because of the filibuster rule which requires sixty votes to end debate and actually vote, and a few so-called Senate moderates led by Joe Manchin (D-WV) believe that the filibuster is a necessary stopgap to protect the rights of the minority party. With the Senate divided 50-50, this small group, which won’t entertain killing it or passing legislation with “carve-outs,” have the leverage to kill the bill.

Only time will tell whether Joe Manchin’s legacy will be the savior of bipartisan politics or the obstructionist who allowed Republicans to thwart efforts to protect voting rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Manchin was successful in getting ten Republicans to support the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that still must pass the House, and he has insisted that forcing legislation though via reconciliation, which bypasses the filibuster, is a destructive process that must be avoided in all but the most dire emergencies.

Most Senate Democrats believe red state attempts to restrict voting rights represent just such an emergency. They have spent months working with Manchin’s cohort of moderates to craft a bill they can all support, and yesterday announced they have reached agreement on a new legislative proposal. “The new bill would make it easier to register to vote, make Election Day a public holiday, ensure states have early voting for federal elections and allow all voters to request mail-in ballots. In addition, the measure would bolster security on voting systems, overhaul how House districts are redrawn and impose new disclosures on donations to outside groups active in political campaigns.”

Manchin succeeded in swaying his Democratic colleagues, though with only fifty votes, the bill would have no chance of being passed by the Senate. Still, Manchin refuses to support passing it with no Republican support. He insists that he will find the ten votes needed for bipartisan passage among his Republican friends in the Senate. Manchin is correct in principle. The question is what it would take to tip the balance from principle to pragmatism if no Republicans are willing to engage with him.

Another ominous attack on voting in America has surfaced in the recall election of California Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom’s principal challenger, right-wing radio host Larry Elder has fully endorsed the Trump playbook on elections. Elder announced that software used to detect fraud in third world countries’ elections has determined Newsom won due to fraud – two days before the election. Voters will let us know how they feel about false claims of election fraud, today, when they actually cast their votes.

Although most Americans have friends or family in California, the recall election has generally been viewed, nationally, as a media soap opera. But over the past century, California has been an excellent predictor of future trends in America. As Elder’s evidence-free claims come on the heels of Trump’s lawyers being thrown out of court more than sixty times alleging the same nonsense, we really ought to pay attention to the outcome. If California voters succumb to such crazy propaganda, we’re all in trouble.

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