Save democracy or save the filibuster

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We are facing what one voting rights activist calls “a once-in-a-generation moment.” Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, told The New York Times “We either are going to see one of the most massive rollbacks of our democracy in generations, or we have an opportunity to say: ‘No, that is not what America stands for. We are going to strengthen democracy and make sure everyone has an equal voice.'”

Which is precisely what Republican state legislatures are fighting, with states about ready to tip blue at the fore. Arizona and Pennsylvania—home to some of the most intense Big Lie litigation—have the most voter suppression legislation under consideration now. It’s Georgia, though, that’s becoming the epicenter for the fight. The state’s flip to electing Joe Biden president and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock as its two senators, flipping the U.S. Senate to the Democrats in the offing, has resulted in omnibus voter suppression bills in both the state House and Senate. Earlier this month, the House passed legislation to restrict in-person voting; require voter ID for absentee ballot requests; limit absentee ballot drop boxes and require the boxes be inside buildings and thus inaccessible when the buildings close; limit weekend early voting; shorten the absentee voting period; and make giving people waiting in line to vote food or drink a misdemeanor. Last week, the Senate passed S.B. 241, 29-20 legislation that ends no-excuse absentee voting; restricts it to disabled people and people over 65 or who can provide they won’t be home on Election Day; and requires ID for absentee ballot requests.

That ID requirement is just one of a litany of barriers for people of color. “That is a burden for people, particularly working folks and poor folks,” LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Any time there are barriers placed on people who are already at an economic disadvantage, what you’re going to see is a drop-off in voting.” Which is precisely what Republicans intend.

Advocacy groups are now ramping up action to get Georgia’s largest national corporations—among them Coca-Cola, UPS, and Delta Airlines—to get involved by stopping their donations to Republican legislators and to speak out. “They spent most of Black History Month peppering us with Martin Luther King quotes, but now that Blacks’ future is in jeopardy, they’re silent,” Nsé Ufot, the chief executive of one participant, the New Georgia Project, said. “We’re using digital ads, billboards, direct action at warehouses and call centers—we’re serious. This is urgent.”

Many of those same corporations succeeded in 2016 in a pressure campaign that resulted in then-Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of an anti-LGBTQ “religious liberty” bill.

That’s one of the strategies for fighting the Georgia bills. But there has to be a national strategy for all the other states, one that addresses what’s happening in that state and all the others. “Well, first of all, I do absolutely agree that it’s racist,” Georgia grassroots leader Stacey Abrams told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday.

“It is a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie,” Abrams said. “We know that the only thing that precipitated these changes, it’s not that there was the question of security.” In another interview on Meet the Press Abrams argued for her proposal that Senate Democrats carve out “an exemption to the filibuster for the purposes of protecting our democracy,” for passing voting rights and election legislation. “Look, I understand wanting to protect the prerequisites of an institution. I served as minority leader for seven years,” Abrams continued.

But I also understand that there were times where we had to look at the fundamentals of our processes and do what was right. And we know the Senate has done so to suspend the filibuster for the purposes of judicial appointments, for Cabinet appointments and for budget reconciliation. I would say protection of the fundamentals of our democracy, which we have seen bloodily debated through the January 6th insurrection, certainly counts.

She argues that the move is justified in the Constitution, which gives the Congress power “that it alone has, which is to regulate the time, place and manner of [federal] elections.” Muller agrees. “It is too important an issue and we are facing too big a crisis to let an arcane procedural motion hold back the passage of this bill,” she told the Times arguing that the threat to voting rights is an existential threat to democracy. Without a free and fair vote, everything else is lost.

If anyone thinks there’s any chance Republicans relent for this, consider the second most likely convert (after Sen. Lisa Murkowski), Sen. Susan Collins. Her Maine colleague, independent Sen. Angus King told News Center Maine that he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of getting rid of the filibuster, but “If Mitch McConnell and his caucus are going to be no, no, no, to everything, and everybody’s going to be on board, then we’ve got to get things done for the country.” Collins showed her true feeling about “bipartisanship” in response. “I would remind my dear friend Angus that the Democrats could be in the minority two years from now. And they will wish that they had not done away with the filibuster if that happens, that I can assure you.”

Add threats to lying, cheating, and reimposing Jim Crow to the Republican toolbox for what they call governing.

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