Last month, Republican senators refused to allow a vote on the Freedom To Vote Act. Because of the Senate’s filibuster rule, the fifty Democratic senators needed ten of their Republican colleagues to join them in allowing the bill to come up for a vote. But not one Republican voted with the Democrats (the Democratic majority leader changed his vote to No so the bill can be given another chance). Here’s why Republicans oppose the bill. The Freedom To Vote Act would:
- Expand voter registration (e.g., automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (e.g., vote-by-mail and early voting) and limit removing voters from voter rolls.
- Establish Election Day as a federal holiday.
- Allow ex-felons to vote.
- Make it illegal to interfere with another person’s ability to register and vote.
- Require states to follow new rules for post-election audits and congressional redistricting.
- Expand the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals and require additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending.
No wonder every single Republican senator refused to allow the bill to be considered. They’re opposed to the idea of majority rule.
In support of the bill’s passage, however, more than 150 academics, experts in subjects like political science, history and public policy, have released this statement:
We, the undersigned, are scholars of democracy writing in support of the Freedom to Vote Act, the most important piece of legislation to defend and strengthen American democracy since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This bill would protect our elections from interference, partisan gerrymandering, dark money, and voter suppression. We urge all members of Congress to pass the bill, if necessary by suspending the Senate filibuster rule and using a simple majority vote.
This is no ordinary moment in the course of our democracy. It is a moment of great peril and risk.
Though disputes over the legitimacy of America’s elections have been growing for two decades, they have taken a catastrophic turn since the 2020 election. The “Big Lie” of a stolen election is now widely accepted among Republican voters, and support for it has become a litmus test for Republicans running for public office. Republican state legislatures in Georgia, Florida, Texas, and across the country have enacted partisan laws intended to make it harder for Democrats to win elections. Most alarmingly, these laws have forged legal pathways for partisan politicians to overturn state election results if they are dissatisfied with the outcome.
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. The history of other crisis-ridden democracies tells us this threat cannot be wished away. It must be promptly and forthrightly confronted. Failure to pass the Freedom to Vote Act would heighten post-election disputes, weaken government legitimacy, and damage America’s international reputation as a beacon of democracy in the world.
Each branch of government has a role to play in protecting free and fair elections, but Congress’s responsibility looms largest. After the Civil War, when the path of American democracy was highly uncertain, Congress built the foundations of our modern democracy by passing two constitutional amendments and five pieces of legislation to protect the right of African Americans to vote. All were passed on party-line votes. But in 1890, the Senate failed to break a filibuster on a sixth piece of legislation: the Federal Elections Bill (also known as the Lodge Bill), which would have pushed back against voting rights violations in the South.
The upshot of that critical vote was that southern states, in the absence of any federal supervision, were allowed to pursue the wholesale disenfranchisement of African Americans for the next 75 years. By a tiny margin in one branch of Congress, American democracy took a giant leap backwards.
Protecting future elections from subversion, providing equal opportunities for all citizens to participate, drawing fair district boundaries, strengthening transparency over money in politics, and facilitating impartial electoral administration should not be partisan matters. Unfortunately, however, across state legislatures, Republicans have challenged the legitimacy of the 2020 U.S. presidential election and altered election rules on party-line votes, with a clear intent to entrench minority rule.
If Congress fails to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, American democracy will be at critical risk. Not only could this failure undermine the minimum condition for electoral democracy—free and fair elections—but it would in turn likely result in an extended period of minority rule, which a majority of the country would reject as undemocratic and illegitimate. This would have grave consequences not only for our democracy, but for political order, economic prosperity, and the national security of the United States as well.
Defenders of democracy in America still have a slim window of opportunity to act. But time is ticking away, and midnight is approaching. To lose our democracy but preserve the filibuster in its current form—in which a minority can block popular legislation without even having to hold the floor—would be a short-sighted mistake of historic proportions. The remarkable history of the American system of government is replete with critical, generational moments in which liberal democracy itself was under threat, and Congress asserted its central leadership role in proving that a system of free and fair elections can work.
We urge the Senate to suspend the filibuster rule for this measure and pass the Freedom to Vote Act. This would uphold the Senate’s noblest tradition of preserving and strengthening American democracy.
At least two Democratic senators, Sinema of Arizona and Manchin of West Virginia, have opposed reforming the filibuster in order to protect voting rights. Tom Tomorrow of This Modern World nicely captures the “logic” of their position:
If you’d like to share your views on this matter (in a nice way) with Senator Sinema, you can contact her even if you don’t live in Arizona. Likewise, you can contact Senator Manchin even if you don’t live in West Virginia. Maybe they care enough about democracy to see reason.