A voter turns peers into the opening of a ballot drop box before placing his ballot inside it in Seattle in October, 2020. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press file photo)

A voter turns peers into the opening of a ballot drop box before placing his ballot inside it in Seattle in October, 2020. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press file photo)

Editorial: Senate Democrats must advance voting rights bills

H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 are vital to voting rights and democracy. The filibuster shouldn’t prevent a vote.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Earlier this week, this editorial board told those who have persisted in trumping up allegations of voter fraud regarding the 2020 election of President Biden, to put up or shut up.

Since the moment the polls closed on Nov. 3 — truthfully, even before then — President Trump and Republican supporters have made repeated claims of ballot fraud, rigged elections, switched votes and more. Yet demands — by election officials, by the media and in courtrooms — to produce verifiable evidence of fraud have been met with little beyond anecdotes and even more baseless allegations.

The real threat to public confidence in our elections, the editorial concluded, was not in how elections were being run but in the unsubstantiated allegations themselves.

Yet, even before the 2020 election and the allegations that followed, voter confidence in elections was near record lows. A Gallup poll released in late September showed that only 44 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents had confidence in the upcoming election’s results, with Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters expressing higher levels at 74 percent. Overall, 59 percent of voters said they were very or somewhat confident of election integrity.

Similarly, the Pew Research Center found slightly higher confidence for all voters (62 percent) before the election, but just 59 percent in the days following the election.

That confidence, particularly among a specific party’s voters, can fluctuate depending on who wins. In 2016, when Trump won, it was Republicans who had more confidence in the election’s accuracy than Democrats; 78 percent among Republicans to 66 percent for Democrats, Gallup found. But even accounting for partisan disappointment, if 4 in 10 voters express skepticism regarding our election systems that’s a problem for democracy.

Like any activity, confidence in democratic processes — particularly voting — is gained through regular use. The more often we vote — and you’ll get another chance this November to determine who will represent you in city, county, school district and other local governments — the more opportunities we have to see that our votes do count and are vital for our representative democracy.

But rather than encouraging participation among all who are eligible to vote, many states across the country are going in the opposite direction, making voting more restrictive and more difficult. This year alone, between Jan. 1 and July 14, 18 states had enacted 30 laws that restrict access to voting, the Brennan Center reported, including laws that limit mail-in ballots and early voting, impose harsher voter ID requirements and unnecessarily purge voters from registration rolls.

Making sure that ability to vote remains accessible is why recent adoption of two voting rights bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and their hoped-for passage in the Senate are worth attention. The House, on Tuesday, passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a companion to the For the People Act that it passed in March. Both now are waiting for action in the Senate.

Named for the late Georgia congressman and civil rights leader, the John R. Lewis Act, H.R. 4, would restore protections that were first won in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, including federal oversight of voting laws, review that was lost in a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The act would prevent state and local governments with recent histories of voter discrimination from changing voting laws and practices without a review by the U.S. Justice Department.

Earlier this spring, the House also adopted the For the People Act, H.R. 1, with several voting reforms, including expansion of automatic and same-day voter registration, strengthening of vote-by-mail and early voting, establishment of fair redistricting processes to prevent gerrymandering, disclosure of dark money in campaign fundraising and ethics and conflict-of-interest rules for government officials, among other provisions.

Also included in H.R. 1 was a provision sponsored by 2nd District Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., that would allow voters to affirm their identity with a sworn statement at the polls or on a mail-in ballot in lieu of government-issued identification.

“I support this necessary bill to honor John’s remarkable legacy and break down discriminatory barriers to guarantee every American’s voice is heard at the ballot box,” Larsen said in a statement, following H.R. 4’s passage.

Both bills passed only on party-line votes in the House, and face greater uncertainty in the Senate, where Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities and passage could easily be prevented by a Republican filibuster.

But there may be a way around the filibuster, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said following the House passage of H.R. 4.

“The clock is ticking on voting rights. We need to use every legislative tool, including an exemption to the filibuster, to ensure voting rights protections can be signed into law,” Murray said in a statement Tuesday.

Normally, the Senate’s filibuster rules require agreement from 60 senators to proceed with a vote, but exceptions have been made in the past, such as in 2013, when majority Democrats left the filibuster in place for most legislation but removed the blocking maneuver when considering confirmation of a president’s Cabinet picks and federal judicial nominees.

The same can be done by simple majority for legislation deemed important enough. And in Murray’s eyes, passage of both voting rights bills is that important.

Earlier this summer, Murray told public radio station KUOW (94.9 FM), that the For the People Act was critical for democracy, and was the most vital vote this Congress will consider.

“A democracy really is where people participate and make the decisions about their country, about their future, about who they want to be, the policies they have, the investments they make. That is done by people using their voice. Their voice is going to the ballot, or speaking out at meetings, or working as an elected official,” she said.

“Right now, we are seeing across the country an effort to restrict people’s voting capability. When we restrict people’s votes, we restrict their voices. A democracy cannot succeed if people are not allowed to speak.”

Traditionalists in the Senate balk at attempts to maneuver past the filibuster, an invention that has kept the peace in the Senate but also has blocked legislation that a majority otherwise would have adopted.

Murray is correct that passage of both pieces of voting rights legislation is too important — to crucial to voter confidence and participation and our representative democracy — to sacrifice to mere tradition.

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