Nel's New Day

June 22, 2021

Voting Filibuster, Round One

Today, to the surprise of no one, GOP senators unanimously blocked any debate on the voting rights reform bill although Democrats unanimously voted in favor of addressing the measure. In the struggle to allow all eligible people have the right to vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and recalcitrant Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) struck a compromise to unify Democrats. Manchin, the only Senate Dem to oppose the House voting bill, created an alternative bill accepted by some Republicans until Georgia’s former Dem gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams endorsed it. GOP senators whirled away from an initial approval, changing their name for the new proposal from Manchin to “Stacey Abrams.” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), opposed to overriding the 60-percent filibuster, had earlier approved of the House bill.

The filibuster has nothing to do with the final passage of the bill; it blocks even debating it on the Senate floor. Manchin’s statement:

“Today I will vote ‘YES’ to move to debate this updated voting legislation as a substitute amendment to ensure every eligible voter is able to cast their ballot and participate in our great democracy.”

Manchin does support these provisions:

  • Making Election Day a public holiday;
  • mandating at least 15 consecutive days for early voting in federal election;
  • Banning gerrymandering;
  • Setting up voter registration through state motor vehicle departments;
  • Backing tighter campaign finance requirements, including requiring online and digital ads to disclose their sources, imposing tighter ethics requirements for presidents and vice presidents, and requiring campaigns and committees to report foreign contacts.

He proposes voter ID requirements, but with the alternative such as utility bills for identity, and does not endorse no-excuse absentee voting. West Virginia does not have no-excuse absentee voting, but its rules for excuses are much more lenient than other states that require it. 

Sinema’s excuses for supporting the filibuster are both irrational and untrue. She attributed the filibuster to the Founding Fathers, a common excuse for people attempt to justify the unjustifiable. In 1789, the first U.S. Senate in 1789 adopted rules allowed a simply majority vote to end debate and proceed to a vote with no alternative method of ending debate. Without any rules for terminating debate, Whig senators filibustered in 1837 and another one in 1841. The formal rule was created in 1917 with a two-thirds requirement for cloture because President Woodrow Wilson wanted to arm merchant vessels.

Most of the filibusters during the mid-20th century were from Southern Democrats blocking civil rights legislation. The filibuster changed to 60 percent in 1975 with the election of 61 Democrats and one independent in the Senate, but the number 60 was required no matter how many senators were absent for voting. Oddly enough, a simple majority of senators can change this rule. 

In the 19th century, a filibuster lasted only as long as the filibustering senators talked to the entire Senate. The end of the talking led to debate moving on to a vote. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed after a 75-hour filibuster, including Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-WV) speech lasting 14 hours and 13 minutes. In only the second time since 1927, a bill went on for a vote.bEven when filibuster use dramatically increased in the 1970s, the Senate had only 413 by 1990. The last 12 years, however, have seen its use almost 600 times—now for preventing any debate. Used to stall business until the next Senate is elected, a filibuster can stop the Senate from addressing any issues on the floor for up to a week. A bill proving medical care for 9/11 responders, supported by a majority of senators, died from filibusters.

Because filibusters tend to come from small GOP states, senators representing as little as 11 percent of the population can block the Senate as a whole from doing business. The 21 smallest states with two GOP Senators, giving that party 42 votes to maintain a filibuster, have 29 percent of the U.S. population. Those 21 states can override the population of 71 percent of the population in the other 29 states. Republicans might want to be more cautious about their constant filibusters: the 21 smallest states with two Democratic senators represent 39 percent of the population, meaning they could block GOP legislation for 61 percent of the population. The result is gridlock because Republicans refuse to compromise.

Sinema’s argument to block the filibusters asserts that any bill passed without it could then be overturned by Republicans in the future. According to that position, no bill should be passed because all of them can be overturned, those dealing with domestic abuse, clean air and water, healthcare, Social Security, gun safety, etc. In short, the Senate would pass nothing because Republicans are always ready to overturn laws that help the population and give people rights. Lasting laws—including Social Security and the Affordable Care Act—have a majority popularity and thus last from one GOP administration to another. Republicans have failed to overturn the ACA for 11 years, Social Security for 86 years.  

In 2021, Manchin protests the loss of the filibuster because he wants to be bipartisan with a party refusing to compromise. In 2011, Manchin just as vigorously opposed the filibuster:

“West Virginians deserve a government that works for them, and they are understandably frustrated with the way things get done—or don’t—in Washington.”

In 2011, Manchin cosponsored Senate Resolution 20 which allowed elimination of the filibuster to block debate and secret holds, permission for both majority and minority leaders to offer up to three relevant amendments on behalf of their members, and the mandate that senators speak on the floor for a filibuster.

Republicans are in a panic about any federal bill allowing voting eligibility: they are all convinced they will lose control if all eligible voters are permitted for participate in selecting their representatives. Their strategy is not to broaden their base but to narrow the pool of voters. The House bill sent to the Senate was written before the 2020 general election, but its results sent the GOP into pure terror.

In their attempt to stop people from voting, 18 states have thus far enacted over 30 anti-voter laws affecting 36 million people, 15 percent of all eligible voters. Laws restrict access to mail voting, create problems for voters’ registration, impose new ID requirements, and expand legal definitions of criminal behavior by voters, election officials, and third parties.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said he was focused “100 percent” on blocking Biden, called a bill to allow voting “craven political calculation.”

The GOP work against democracy reflects the 19th century. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) declared that “Jim Crow laws came out of democracy,” but they came from selecting government leaders from insurrection and violence. The new laws are trying to revert to the 18th century when women, Blacks, and non-landowners could not participate in selecting their representatives.

Texas AG Ken Paxton openly bragged about restricting voters by saying “Donald Trump would’ve lost the [Texas] election” if he hadn’t blocked mail-in ballots in Harris County, actually unsolicited applications for mail-in ballots. In Texas and other red states, “election integrity” literally means blocking access to the ballot by any means, especially in Democratic-learning and nonwhite areas.

Republicans no longer have any policy: they just demand power and will obtain it by any means.

The bad news for Republicans is they are accidentally suppressing GOP voters. Most of the new laws, for example mandatory IDs and limits on drop-box and early voting hours, could restrict Black voters, but limiting mail balloting may block GOP voting. Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT) lies about fraudulent vote-by-mail probably stopped many Republicans from voting, especially because the GOP has an older White population. This demographic has a higher proportion of voters by mail. 

In one bright light of the voting controversy, Vermont expanded voting rights. The state will mail ballots to all registered voters and permit them to “cure” or fix incorrectly submitted or defective ballot. Nevada also expanded mail-in voting to all registered voters.

Satirist Andy Borowitz’s humor column wrote the McConnell complained about the federal voting bill would take the U.S. “to the brink of democracy.”

Borowitz continued:

“Noting that the word ‘democracy’ originated in ancient Greece, [McConnell] vowed, ‘I will not sit idly by and watch a foreign form of government sneak across our border.’ …

“’The people who voted for us did not vote for us so that other people could vote for other people,’ he said.”

Despite obstructionism from Manchin and Sinena, the rest of the Democrats are not quitting on the U.S. people. During the Senate two-week vacation for the Fourth of July, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Rules Committee, plans a series of field hearings, drawing attention to the GOP anti-voting laws and “the urgent need to pass critical voting, campaign finance, and ethics reforms.” The Georgia event will “hear testimony on the recently enacted legislation to restrict voting in the state.”

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