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Go big, Democrats, for voting rights and fair elections

This is no time to defer to the tradition of the filibuster, which historically was attempted only sparingly. President Biden and Senate Democrats have no choice but to forge ahead.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Democratic Caucus gather to address reporters on H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Caucus gather to address the media on H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021, a sweeping voting rights, elections and ethics bill.
Scott Applewhite | AP Photos

Now, more than ever, Congress must go bold in protecting voting rights and the integrity of our nation’s elections.

The right to cast a vote in a fair and secure election is the cornerstone of American democracy, which is why Senate Democrats must follow in the footsteps of their House colleagues and approve H.R. 1, a sweeping voting rights, election reform and ethics bill.

The bill passed along partisan lines in the House on Wednesday, with Republicans, now the party of the big lie about rampant voter fraud, united in opposition. But the bill faces long odds in the Senate. Republican opponents almost certainly will attempt a filibuster, meaning the legislation would need 60 votes to pass.

This is no time to respect the tradition of the filibuster, which historically was attempted sparingly but in recent decades has been employed compulsively by Republicans looking to block any and all legislation put forward by Democrats.

President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats, who have a 51-vote majority with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaker, have no choice but to forge ahead undaunted.

Enough of the big lie — that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election because of voter fraud, not voter disgust — which has sparked an oppressive wave of 253 Republican-sponsored bills in 43 states to suppress voter turnout in future elections.

In the name of “election security,” Republican state lawmakers want to impose stricter limits on mail-in voting and early voting, enact tougher voter ID laws, eliminate scores of ballot drop boxes and more. They are so deathly afraid of never winning another national election if all eligible Americans — especially minorities — actually are allowed to vote.

Enough is enough.

America is in dire need of national standards for fair, secure and fully accessible elections, based on laws already in place in a number of states. Senate Democrats — and any Republican who believes in democracy — must stand against the GOP’s bald attempts to dismantle voting rights.

To allow a filibuster to kill H.R. 1 would be to wave the white flag. A defeatist precedent will have been set, and Biden might just as well forget much of the rest of his ambitious agenda. Every initiative going forward could well be dead on arrival in the Senate.

‘Zero-sum game’

Consider what a lawyer for Republicans told the Supreme Court on Tuesday during oral arguments in an Arizona voting rights case. Asked why Arizona Republicans want to keep restrictive voting laws on the books, the lawyer was shockingly honest: “Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero-sum game.”

There you have it. Republicans aren’t worried about stolen elections. They’re afraid of honest elections. Equal access to the ballot box means they lose.

What H.R. 1 would do

Should H.R. 1 be enacted, Republicans are sure to turn to the courts to challenge the constitutionality of the law, arguing that it infringes on the broad authority of individual states to set the rules of elections. As Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said, “If this were to become law, it would be the largest expansion of the federal government’s role in our elections that we’ve ever seen.”

So be it. Let the writing of legal briefs begin.

But Republican opponents of HR 1 would be wise to remember that the bill’s key provisions get high marks in public opinion polls.

Here are the bill’s highlights:

Voting rights: States would be required to institute automatic, same-day and online voter registration, and implement stronger protections against large-scale purges of voters from the rolls. In federal elections, states would be required to schedule at least two weeks of early voting and also offer all voters prepaid mail-in ballots. The voting rights of people with prior felony convictions would be restored.

Campaign finance: Public financing of federal elections would be expanded, with small donor matching, and various campaign finance rules would be tightened up.

Congressional redistricting: States would be required to set up independent citizen commissions to conduct redistricting, with new national rules for drawing district maps. Partisan gerrymandering would be expressly outlawed.

Election security: States would be required to replace paperless electronic voting machines with machines that produce an individual paper record of each vote, a move that election security experts have said should be a priority. Funding would be provided for state audits of election results. Private vendors of election systems would be regulated.

Ethics: Ethics rules would be strengthened for all three branches of government. The president, vice-president and candidates for both offices would be required to disclose their tax returns. A code of ethics would be established for the Supreme Court.

Nobody stole the 2020 presidential election. But Republican-controlled state legislatures are hot at work trying to steal future elections by devising endlessly creative voter suppression schemes.

Our democracy is under siege in statehouses across the country.

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