We must end the filibuster to protect our democracy
This week, a united Democratic majority in the Senate voted to open a debate on voting rights legislation. And a united Republican minority voted to prevent that debate.
In the midst of a nationwide crisis of voter suppression, Republicans refused even to open a conversation on election reform.
The reason why is clear. Senate Republicans have allied themselves with the antidemocratic efforts of their carefully gerrymandered state legislatures. My colleagues are using the filibuster to stop Congress from responding to the new wave of electoral manipulation coming from Republican-controlled statehouses across the country.
Republican officials justify these efforts by spreading baseless lies and conspiracy theories about voter fraud and election integrity. They ignore the evidence that court after court, and expert after expert, has affirmed: that the 2020 election was safe, secure, and one of the most successful in our nation’s history.
I can attest firsthand to the success of the 2020 election. I was the Chief Elections Officer for California — the most populous and most diverse state in the country. Despite the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, California offered several safe, convenient options for voters to cast their ballots, and we achieved a record turnout.
Across the country, voters made their voices heard in record numbers. A diverse American majority elected a Democratic president, House and Senate.
We are now seeing a backlash rooted in white supremacy. This pattern has plagued the fight for voting rights since the earliest days of Reconstruction. In the 1860s and 70s, the first Ku Klux Klan began its reign of terror in response to the emancipation and enfranchisement of formerly enslaved Black Americans across the Confederate South. In the 1960s and 70s, Republican politicians designed the racist Southern Strategy to mobilize opponents of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
In the 2010s, aided by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, Republican-led state legislatures passed a wave of targeted voter ID laws and other voter suppression measures just after we elected our first Black president. And this year, just weeks after the country rejected the presidency of Donald Trump, Republican-led state legislatures began their latest voter suppression drive.
This Congress must respond. Protecting democracy should be a bipartisan cause. Every senator should be eager to affirm that our country is stronger when all eligible voters are able to participate. But Republicans have shown us repeatedly that they are unwilling to stand up to Trump. We can no longer afford to wait for our colleagues to find their courage or their conscience. We can’t let the filibuster tie our hands in the face of this crisis.
Democrats, confronted with this obstruction, must prepare to act alone. Our democracy is too important for us to wait on unwilling partners.
Just like the generations that marched before us, we must rise to this occasion. We must find a path forward to protect voting rights nationwide. We cannot give up this fight. The stakes are too high.
Padilla is the junior senator from California and formerly served as California’s secretary of state.