Voting rights, Trump’s Big Lie, and Republicans’ problem with minorities

Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) deserve blame for killing a bill to protect voting rights — but let’s not forget that it was Senate Republicans who were united against thwarting voter suppression.

In refusing to allow an up and down vote on voting rights, carving out an exception to the filibuster, I don’t believe Sinema and Manchin acted out of principle. They didn’t object to the Senate, by just a majority vote, acting on the budget, or judicial nominations, or this year the debt ceiling.

Sinema seems to be is on an ego trip, trying to channel the authentic independence of another Arizonian, the late John McCain. Manchin has already won the things he cares about: more roads and bridges for West Virginia and protecting his political and financial interests in coal.

The Republican opposition grows out of Donald Trump’s big lie that the last election was fraudulent. More than a dozen Republican state legislatures responded with measures clearly aimed at suppressing votes, especially targeting minorities.

Unlike many of their GOP predecessors over the last half century or more, the current crop of Republican Senators opposed voting protections. They claim the only problem is with procedures on vote counting, not with voting.

Led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), there’s a move to craft bipartisan legislation reforming the tally of Electoral College votes — Trump tried to cheat last time — and maybe throw in some protection for threatened poll workers.

This is a diversion to avoid any political fallout from having opposed voting rights. It has all the smell of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose definition of election integrity is whatever benefits him. Collins, with rare exceptions, is a McConnell go-along. Recall when the Maine Senator, in voting against the first impeachment of Trump, said the former president had learned “a pretty big lesson.” In justifying her vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, she cited assurances he wouldn’t vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

Some of the election counting proposals are essential. So too are voting rights protections, despite Collins’s claim that civil rights advocates on this score are harmful alarmists.

These Republicans argue that the 2020 election saw record turnouts, that it was easier than ever to vote, and a number acknowledge it wasn’t plagued by fraud; Trump’s own Homeland Security agency called it “the most secure” in American history.

Then why have Republican states enacted voting restrictions? It has nothing to do with election integrity; it has everything to do with making voting harder — especially for minorities, who tend to vote for Democrats.

Numerous states have adopted voter suppression measures. Georgia, where there was a large turnout in 2020, may be the worst. Republicans claim they are ‘liberalizing’ voting rules. Does anyone believe those right-wingers really want to make it easier for minorities to vote?

The Georgia law would cut by more than half the time to request absentee ballots. It would prohibit local, as well as state officials from sending out absentee ballots unless requested. Last time, 1.3 million Georgians voted by absentee, mostly for Democrats, reversing earlier patterns.

The law also drastically curtails the number of convenient drop boxes — totally secure — in the large Atlanta metro area. Without the threat of congressional action, there now is a move to eliminate them altogether. This year’s Georgia law outlaws mobile voting centers, which also simplified voting.

Again, these aren’t changes responding to problems, except the political problem for Republicans of minority votes.

Texas, already a state that makes voting more difficult, took aim at large counties like Harris, home of Houston. It makes it a crime to distribute or solicit absentee ballot applications, outlaws drive-through voting venues and prohibits most assistance for voters with disabilities or language issues.

There are a plethora of additional restrictions in these and other states, ranging from purging voters who haven’t voted recently from the rolls to tougher ID requirements to prohibiting offering snacks or water to anyone in a long line. (That’ll stop those who were selling their votes for chips or aqua!)

Many of these restrictions — though not all — don’t make a big difference by themselves. Cumulatively, however, they will — particularly among lower income and minority voters.

Republicans didn’t always oppose voting rights and changing a filibuster rule. Former GOP Sen. David Durenberger, writing with civil rights advocate Ralph Neas, cited the late Bob Dole’s consistent support for voting rights, noting, “Senate rules are not a suicide pact and that sometimes new precedents must be established.”

When the Senate passed the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act, supported decisively by congressional Republicans, a Democratic Senator complained to Senate Majority leader Mike Mansfield, that he was letting Republicans take too much credit. Mansfield, one of the wisest men to ever serve in the body, replied it was good for Republicans, still reeling from a devastating political defeat, and good for the country.

Today as the premier journalist on the subject, the Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein writes, “the real choice for today’s congressional Democrats on voting rights and democracy protection is not whether to act alone or act with Republicans; it’s whether to act alone or not act at all.”

Sadly, it seems, the once but no longer proud United States Senate won’t act at all.

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 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.