Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., surely understands that a moment of destiny is upon him. It has arrived as a tide that rolls over the many moments of note in his lengthy career of service to the state and the nation. It is the collision of our democracy with the filibuster. It is the tyranny of any single senator’s filibuster slamming headlong into the right to vote, as embodied in the For the People Act.
The filibuster was once a useful animal. Although it was always ugly to all except its mother, it has mutated into a rabid beast that threatens our democracy itself. In an irony never imagined by the fathers of the filibuster, the Senate’s filibuster rule, which originated to prevent a Senate majority from silencing the voices of the minority, has become a vehicle for the reverse. Now, one senator can, and often does, silence the majority.
The painless (if you don’t count its effect on the people) filibuster lurks, ready to pounce and devour the For the People Act, a measure that aims to greatly curtail, if not end, voter suppression. The filibuster remains championed by Republicans, as their statehouses bend toward making it more difficult for people to vote.
Following Democrats’ retaking of the presidency and Senate in the 2020 election, in 43 states, GOP legislators have introduced 253 bills that would restrict access to the ballot box, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. These state bills aim to limit mail-in voting, reduce the number of days for early voting, and the like.
Despite Republicans’ claims, there is no urgent need for additional voter “security.” The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency found that, “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history ...” Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, reported that the Department of Justice found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 election.
Similarly, FBI Director Christopher Wray recently told Congress, “We have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort ...” And despite 60 court cases brought by Trump and others, no evidence of election fraud was uncovered.
If I stumbled into the good fortune to chat with Manchin, I would suggest that a return to the “talking filibuster” of our late Sen. Robert C. Byrd,D-W.Va., would preserve the Senate minority’s right to be heard without obliterating the opportunity to pass vital legislation like the For the People Act.
This bill, if passed into law, would halt Republican voter suppression or, at a minimum, cause Republicans to become even more devious at it, while heightening election integrity by undoing gerrymandering, limiting dark-money contributions, allowing for same-day registration and a minimum of two weeks of early voting.
It would expand voting by mail, which has been done successfully for years in numerous states, and is done by our military, without fraud. It would establish Election Day as a federal holiday and require presidential and vice presidential candidates to reveal their federal tax returns for the previous 10 years.
Republicans’ claims that the bill represents a usurpation of states’ rights are preposterous when viewed in the glare of their shabby efforts to make it more difficult to vote.
For Manchin, the tide is at its flood. I pray that he will take it by voting to end the painless filibuster.