Sat. May 21st, 2022

A decade later, McConnell remains consistent in his opposition to a democratic agenda.

The latest push to reform voting rights centered on two key pieces of legislation that Democrats argued would secure future elections in the wake of Trump and give non-voting societies greater opportunities to have their say.

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The first was the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, named after the late Congressman and civil rights leader who wanted to restore and update federal protections of the 1965 landmark Voting Rights Act.

The second was the law on the freedom to vote, which would, among other things, expand the possibilities for voting through early or postal voting, give voters the opportunity to sue for attempts to override valid election results and make election day a public holiday.

The case was seen as urgent because Republicans in recent months have pushed a new wave of voting laws in several states, which Democrats see as a blatant repression of voters, from ballots being removed in counties with a large number of black and brown communities, to restrictions on early or postal voting.

The problem for Biden is that the current Senate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, each with 50 votes (with Kamala Harris’ tie-breaker). As such, Biden hoped the Senate would support a one-time amendment to the House’s so-called filibuster rule, which requires parties to get at least 60 votes to pass bills and end the debate.

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is a fan of the filibuster.

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is a fan of the filibuster.Credit:Getty Images

Republicans, however, saw it as an attempt at “federal takeover of elections”, while Sinema and Manchin – the same two Democrats who prevented Biden’s Build Back Better Act – mentioned the risk of future parties using the rule change to hit policies through the Senate without that a fair vote.

So what’s next for voting rights in America?

In a statement issued last night, Biden said he was “deeply disappointed that the US Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy”, but that he would not be deterred.

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The president knows, however, that he has limited time to get some runs on the board, especially in light of growing discontent among grassroots activists and communities whose support Democrats will rely on in critical midterm battles.

One possibility would be to focus on a less ambitious proposal being discussed by both sides of politics: to rewrite the Electoral Code, which sets out many of the rules that apply to how electoral votes are counted.

In a nutshell, the law was established in 1887, but it contains some contemporary risks and ambiguities. For example, it allows members of Congress to object to the counting of votes from a state – if a person from Parliament and one from the Senate write an objection – but it does not specify what kind of objections are appropriate. Instead, Congress can debate and decide the matter.

In 2005, for example, some members protested against counting the electoral votes cast in Ohio for George W. Bush, claiming that the results were inaccurate; in 2021, some members protested that the votes of the Electoral College were counted for Biden in Pennsylvania and Arizona.

The concern is that when the objection mechanism is used, it not only results in Congress spending a long time debating the matter, it can also further erode confidence in democracy.

Senator Mitt Romney supports another attempt at a vote reform.

Senator Mitt Romney supports another attempt at a vote reform. Credit:AP

A two-part congressional committee is now seeking to address this and recently drew up a report with a series of proposals, including a dramatic increase in the threshold for objections to a state’s presidential election results.

In addition, key senators, including McConnell, Manchin and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have expressed interest in reforming the law, which gives it a much better chance of survival than this week’s attempt to blow up the filibuster.

It’s not quite what Team Biden wanted, but it’s at least something. And for a struggling first-term president trying to navigate a hostile Senate, something is better than nothing.

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