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We need a voting rights workaround

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The fate of American politics, especially voting rights, rests with an unwieldy concept: workaround.

Responding to Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that cheating cost him the November election, Republican state legislatures are moving to make voting harder. The rationale is to prevent voting fraud, a non-existent problem.

The real motive is to make it harder for minorities and young people to vote: They’re the constituencies that won the election for Joe Biden as well as Senate victories for Democrats in previously Republican strongholds like Georgia and Arizona. These new planned restrictions — had they been in place — likely would have prevented that.

The House last week approved a sweeping election reform bill that would negate most of these state-level changes. It faces a Republican filibuster; two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, insist they oppose a change in the filibuster rules which require 60 votes to end a filibuster. That would doom the measure.

Thus, the critical search for a “workaround” — a way to create an exception — to pass this legislation.

Former Sen. Christopher Dodd, close to both the president and many of his former colleagues — and a defender of the filibuster — told me a modification is necessary: “The polarized views of don’t-touch-the-filibuster and get-rid-of-the-filibuster both are unacceptable today.”

The voting limitations, the Atlantic’s astute Ron Brownstein writes, “could not only shape the balance of power between the parties, but undermine whether democracy grows more isolated or exclusionary.” Scholars, he notes, see the GOP crackdown in multiple states as “the greatest assault on American’s right to vote since the Jim Crow-era barriers to the ballot.”

The Republican-dominated Georgia legislature is moving to curtail early voting, limit voting on Sundays, make voting by mail more difficult, and to strip some election responsibilities from the Secretary of State. They say this is necessitated by concerns about the 2020 election. The concern is they lost a valid election, which the Republican Secretary of State honestly validated.

In Arizona, which also went for Biden and a Democratic Senator, voters are being similarly targeted by the Republican legislature. If these efforts aren’t overturned by federal law, look for Democrats to lose a couple Senate seats there next year.

Other big GOP-controlled legislatures in Florida and Texas also will likely enact voter suppression measures, further endangering the Democrats’ thin majority in the House.

The Republican-dominated Supreme Court, not friendly to voting rights, likely would uphold most of these state-imposed restrictions. The newest Trump-appointed Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, in an oral argument on a separate, existing Arizona voting limitations law claimed, “All elections rules are going to make it easier for some to vote than others.”

This seems more a justification to embrace new GOP restrictions. Actually, where voting is made easier — including places like Utah, which has all-mail voting — it isn’t harder or easier for anyone.

The wide-ranging House-passed legislation includes restrictions on partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, disclosure of most all campaign donations, matching funds for small contributions to congressional candidates, and tougher ethics rules for members of Congress and the Supreme Court.

Republican attacks are phony.

Former Vice President Pence, eager to get out of the Trump dog house, claimed Republicans are trying to guard against voter fraud; others charge that Democrats are trying to federalize all elections. As veteran reform advocate Fred Wertheimer told me, there already are national standards for congressional candidates: They operate under the same campaign finance laws and same minimal requirements, like age. The measure is not about state or local races.

Another ruse is that the filibuster is sacrosanct. It didn’t even exist in the original design of the Republic and has been changed multiple times. For our purposes, the significant changes began in 1980, when under the budget reconciliation process, revenue bills, once a fiscal year, could pass the Senate with a majority vote. In 2013 Democrats ended the 60-vote filibuster requirement for appointments and the judiciary, except for the Supreme Court. Four years later the Republicans ended it for Supreme Court nominations.

If a Republican were in the White House and faced a must-need measure, you can bet that Sen. Mitch McConnell would find a workaround.

Chris Dodd says Democrats should require a three-fifths vote of all present throughout a filibuster — and Senators would then have to stay around. “It should cause some pain,” he said. Also, they should look at a proposal from former Sen. Tom Harkin to gradually reduce the number required to break a talk-a-thon to 55 and eventually to 50.

The key figure is Manchin. Unlike most Senate mavericks, Manchin is well-liked by his colleagues, and is a real Democrat — albeit from a deeply red state. He twice voted to convict Donald Trump and is supporting Biden’s COVID stimulus.

If there’s any chance of a workaround, it probably has to be done on a one-shot basis. Critics will ask, “Then why not for raising the minimum wage or child-care?” As worthy as those are, voting rights goes to the heart of Democracy.

Ultimately the stakes are so huge the president will have to engage. Today the betting odds are against any workaround. I’m betting that a Joe-to-Joe will devise one.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Arizona Black voters Donald Trump Early voting Filibuster Florida Georgia Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema mail in ballots Mitch McConnell Parliamentary procedure Politics of the United States Republican Party Sunday voting Texas Tom Harkin Vote by Mail Voter ID laws Voter suppression Voter suppression in the United States voting rights West Virginia workaround Young voters

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