Don't forget about democracy


To the editor:

I write to urge your support for action to strengthen American democracy.

The U.S. Senate bipartisan infrastructure agreement will likely dominate Washington in the coming days. But once the infrastructure package is finalized, the Senate must tackle the growing threat to America’s democracy infrastructure.

Former president Donald Trump continues to pound away on the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, and that widespread voter fraud was the culprit. Even though his claims of widespread voter fraud are not grounded in evidence and were rejected by election officials and the courts, millions believe him.

As a result, states across the nation are debating and implementing new ways to make it harder to vote under the guise of fighting that non-existent widespread voter fraud. Even though all Americans older than 18 have a right to vote, the “big lie” of a stolen election is being used to make voting more difficult, and to get rid of elections administrators regardless of party affiliation who based their actions on facts, not ideology.

It’s a very dangerous turn of events. It is not hard to see the road to authoritarianism if they succeed.

What should be done? Among the pile of important issues stuck in the molasses of U.S. Senate decision-making is a proposal for Congress to establish a democracy “floor” below which no state can go. That floor would include basic voting rights that make casting a ballot easier, not harder.

The measure — introduced as S.B. 1 — matches a House version, which already has passed that chamber. The bill relies on the nation’s “best practices” when it comes to elections, including:

• Requiring voting reforms such as automatic voter registration and nationwide early voting.

• Restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

• Requiring independent redistricting in all states.

• Establishing a voluntary system of public financing that relies on small donations, not big campaign contributions.

• Strengthen ethical standards for the presidency and the courts.

But it’s stuck in the Senate “mud.” In the Senate, the rules in place say that 60 votes are needed to avoid a filibuster that can stop legislation in its tracks. In the current Senate divide — both parties having 50 members — uniform Senate Republican opposition is blocking approval of the legislation.

Unless something is done about limiting the filibuster, it’s hard to imagine success in approving the elections measure.

But there is a way. The Senate has trimmed back the use of the filibuster rule in the case of approving federal judges. Most recently, in April 2017, the Republican Senate majority changed the rule to allow a simple majority to approve U.S. Supreme Court nominees, which enabled Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch to proceed to a vote.

Why not apply the same rule used for approving Supreme Court nominees to measures to protect American democracy?

New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer has to decide whether to make such a move. Of course, he needs all Senate Democrats and the vice president to agree to the change, and not all those senators are on board right now.

Sen. Schumer is the majority leader because he is an expert in moving the chamber toward consensus. If and when he makes his move could determine the future of American democracy in the world.

We must call on the Senate to do whatever is necessary to get S.B. 1 out of the “mud” and onto the floor for a vote.

Blair Horner

The author is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a student-run non-partisan group that advocates for a number of socio-economic issues.

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Blair Horner,