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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Reform the filibuster

Democrats can’t let GOP use unchecked power to undermine democracy


Should rules of the U.S. Senate allow the Republican Party to undermine our democracy?
The answer should most certainly be “no,” but that could be what’s in store if the Democrats don’t take steps to rein in the GOP’s systematic efforts at voter suppression now being implemented in states across the country.
Since the failed GOP-led insurrection on Jan. 6, Republican legislatures in many parts of the country have introduced hundreds of measures to try to block voters, particularly voters of color, from participating in our elections in the future. While supporters of these measures claim they are necessary for election security, they can cite virtually no evidence that our elections aren’t secure now. The Trump administration’s own cybersecurity czar declared the 2020 election “the most secure” in American history.
And the actual intent of some of these voter suppression efforts couldn’t be more obvious, or more targeted at people of color. In Georgia, for example, where well-organized efforts increased black voter participation and turned that southern state blue in 2020, the GOP-led Legislature is pushing, among other things, to eliminate early voting on Sundays. There’s no evidence, of course, that early voting on Sundays is any less secure than any other day. That’s the day, however, when many black voters typically vote, as part of the “Souls to the Polls” movement organized through black churches. Reducing early voting, in general, reduces participation by the poor and people of color, because it leads to hours-long lines in many urban precincts on Election Day. Rural and suburban areas are typically unaffected by long lines on Election Day, which makes voting on Election Tuesday far easier for those in GOP-dominated areas.
The Republican Party has won a majority of the vote in a national election only once in the past 32 years, so the party has become increasingly reliant on the peculiarities of the Electoral College to hold the White House. That means they’ve strategically targeted battleground states, like Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, in the hope that they can suppress enough votes to eke out narrow state victories and win future presidential races through the Electoral College.
The same tactics, of course, in combination with extreme gerrymandering, have allowed the GOP to dominate U.S. politics despite representing an ever-shrinking minority of the U.S. population.
The U.S. House has already passed its own countermeasure to the GOP effort, known as H.R. 1, which would re-establish many of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that have been undercut in recent years by conservative activist judges. But the prospects for the legislation in the Senate appear all but hopeless under current rules. While the Democrats hold a working majority in the Senate, the widespread abuse of the filibuster means that 41 senators can block any piece of legislation they don’t like.
Which is why even moderate senators, like Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, are calling for reform of the filibuster. The Republicans already eliminated the filibuster when it comes to filling judicial seats, so they could ram through hundreds of young, conservative judges over the past four years. And the budget reconciliation process is another tactic that the Senate has established as a filibuster work-around.
If packing the courts with conservatives is a high enough priority to suspend the filibuster, surely guaranteeing the constitutionally enshrined right of all Americans to vote would meet that bar.
Like Klobuchar, who has been historically reluctant to reform the filibuster, we’ve seen value in the filibuster when it’s used to protect legitimate principles that may not currently be in vogue. But there’s nothing principled about voter suppression. It’s raw political power at its worst.
What’s more, not one of the state Senates currently advancing voter suppression legislation allows its minority Democrats the right to filibuster those bills. So, the GOP can use its unchecked political clout at the state level to undermine democracy affecting federal governance, while the Democrats in the U.S. Senate are supposed to sit by powerless to stop them. What a farce.
Democrats need to understand the new reality— and that’s that growing numbers of Republicans no longer support the ideal of democratic governance and the right to vote. And unless the Democrats are willing to stand up and truly fight for the principles that this nation was founded on, this country will continue to be ruled by an increasingly radicalized minority, intent on using a system already stacked in favor of the minority to further maintain their grip on the nation. That’s a recipe for disaster.


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