This may be the end of the road to federal electoral reforms

The very first article written by The Fulcrum referred to the Democrats’ sweeping electoral reform measure as a “political message” bill that would never pass as long as Republicans controlled the Senate. This chapter of democratic reform seems destined to end on Wednesday evening, as planned three years ago.

What began as the For the People Act, and was given a prominent place in legislation as “HR 1”, morphed into the Freedom to Vote Act before being merged into a another bill. Tonight, Senate Democrats will try, and fail, to pass the John R. Lewis Free Suffrage Act in an evenly divided house.

While Democrats could secure a simple majority for the bill (thanks to Vice President Harris’ role as a Senate tie-breaker), they have no way of overcoming a Republican filibuster. And two of their own members have repeatedly said they will not accept proposals to change or eliminate the minority party’s ability to block legislation.


On December 18, 2018, Fulcrum founding editor David Hawkings wrote:

“The general goals of the legislation – to limit the influence of money on politics, to facilitate access to the ballot box and to intensify government ethics – reflect the ambitious themes of many advocacy groups united under the banner of ‘reform’. Politics “.

“Having won 40 seats to reclaim the House majority in January, Democrats will have more than enough muscle to push their bill through the Capitol halfway. But then it’s about to come to a definitive halt at the gates of the still-Republican Senate, one of many moves that seem destined to show brief signs of life before it dies in the newly divided Congress.

He was writing about the For the People Act, which predictably died in the Senate after being passed in the House. This year, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia led an effort to revise the bill to attract enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster. But the revised bill, known as the Freedom to Vote Act, never garnered GOP support.

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His latest version, which includes another bill to restore the Justice Department’s power to oversee election changes in states with a history of racial discrimination, passed the House ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. .and will be presented to the Senate for debate on Wednesday evening.

It will fail.

Democratic leaders will then try to change the filibuster rules. But with Manchin and fellow Democrat Krysten Sinema of Arizona both reaffirming their opposition to a rule change, that effort will also fail.

And yet, the defenders did not lose hope.

“We’re still doing everything we can to get this bill across the finish line, so while the path may be narrower than ever, we’re not there yet,” said Ross Sherman, gatekeeper. -speaker of the reform group RepresentUs. “We’ve seen countless headlines in the media throughout the last year claiming these bills are dead/doomed/etc., but our movement never gave up and we did until now despite the cynicism.”

Nick Penniman, CEO of Issue One, began considering the next steps.

“Today begins the next chapter in the fight to protect our elections. There is a bipartisan path if Democrats and Republicans can put politics aside and come together around the need to strengthen our elections,” he said. he declares. “It’s critical that leaders from both parties now work together to produce a bill that can pass. This must include provisions that strengthen our elections, protect election workers, and ensure that every American’s vote is cast fairly. Many legislative proposals in Congress are rooted in strong bipartisanship and are supported by an overwhelming majority of voters across the political spectrum.

From the start, Democrats pursued a “go it alone” legislative strategy, choosing not to negotiate with Republicans over what was included in the legislation. And Manchin’s changes were too small, too late. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s possible, and perhaps even likely, that the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, would never have agreed even if his party’s moderates supported some version of reform.

One option that has been shelved, at least for now, is to break the bill down into its component parts and try to pass them individually. A recent poll found public support for key elements of the legislation.

Of course, no one ever wants to admit defeat before it happens, so no piecemeal approach has been offered so far. However, historian Heather Cox Richardson reports in her newsletter that Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said his party would do just that.

RepresentUs, among other things, will therefore focus on state-level activity.

“I can tell you that we are still battling gerrymandering in key states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina,” Ross said. “We will also play the Democratic Reform offense with our Campaign Accelerator program, working with key state and local partners to pass laws that strengthen democracy, including ranked ballots and open primaries.”

There is movement in Congress on another front of electoral reform, as lawmakers on both sides indicate their desire to toughen rules around Electoral College vote certification.

But with midterm elections approaching and partisan battle lines cemented in cries of “voter suppression” on the left and “election security” on the right, reform advocates must find a new way forward.

“There’s still time on the clock, but we need to pick up the ball and start moving fast down the pitch in a bipartisan fashion. That work starts again tomorrow,” Penniman said.

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