Editorial: Biden must press Congress to protect the right to vote
By staging a dramatic walkout Sunday, Democrats in the Texas of House of Representatives prevented passage of a Republican bill that would make it harder for Texans, particularly citizens of color, to vote.
Like legislation in other states, the Texas bill would rein in voting by mail, but it also targets turnout-enhancing practices that are especially important to voters of color, including 24-hour voting, drive-through voting and early voting on Sunday.
One of the Republican sponsors of the bill said that the legislation “isn’t about who won or who lost” but is designed to “make the elections more accessible and more secure.” But it’s impossible to separate this and other “election integrity” bills pushed by Republicans from the ongoing effort to delegitimize President Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.
Defenders of restrictive legislation argue that even if there was no significant fraud in 2020, many voters think there was and need to be reassured. But many of those concerns are the direct result of Republican acquiescence in Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him.
Republican insistence on suppressing the vote makes it vital that Congress approve the key provisions of the For the People Act already passed by the House — including requirements that states allow wide use of mail-in ballots and provide a minimum number of days for early voting — as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The latter legislation would reinvigorate a requirement in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that states with a history of racial discrimination get advance approval from the Justice Department or a federal court for changes in election practices. (Before a 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting this provision, Texas was subject to this requirement.)
Biden criticized the Texas legislation and rightly called it part of an “assault on democracy.” He also urged passage of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. In a speech in Tulsa on Tuesday, he promised to fight for voting rights legislation and announced that Vice President Kamala Harris would help lead that effort.
For that effort to succeed, Biden must recognize that protecting voting rights will probably require abolishing or suspending the filibuster, which he has acknowledged has been “abused in a gigantic way.” Then he needs to drive that reality home to Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
Biden is known to be sentimental about the traditions of a body in which he served for 36 years. But no Senate tradition, however entrenched, should stand in the way of guaranteeing equal access to the ballot box.
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