Sinema and Voting Rights
PHOTO CAPTION: Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin
IN AN ATTEMPT to institute sweeping changes to rules regarding voting and campaign finance, the Democrats passed the House version 220-210 with no Republican support. But when it went to the Senate, it stalled –- like a car about to run out of gas – with two votes short of the minimum number of senators to pass the voting rights bill. If the 50 Democratic senators would vote for it, then a 50-50 split would result. But Vice President Kamala Harris who presided over the Senate would break the tie; thus, delivering a win for the Democrats.
But two maverick Democrats – Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — have indicated that they are not going to support it, therefore killing what a majority of Americans was hoping would equitably level the playing field in the forthcoming elections.
Proponents of the bill say it is necessary to protect access to the polls, especially for minority voters. They also said that it is crucial now because many Republican-controlled state legislatures are considering passing their own laws to tighten voting rules, claiming they would “improve election security.”
But the Republicans argued that the bill would amount to a partisan, federal takeover of elections that would make voting “less secure.” Also, Republicans argued that states should “retain flexibility” on how they run elections, claiming that the proposal would be tantamount to a federal takeover of voting rules. This was precisely what “states rights” was all about: to diminish the role of the federal government and give more latitude to the states to exercise their freedom from federal control.
Voting rights legislation
Every state would be required to provide at least 15 days of early voting. The bill would also require every state to allow voting by mail and mandates online and same-day voter registration. The bill would restore voting rights to felons who have already served their sentences.
The bill would also loosen state voter-identification requirements by providing a workaround. If a state requires ID, a voter who lacks the proper ID could instead sign a statement that attests to his or her identity.
The bill would mandate drop-off boxes for mail ballots, and would allow voters to designate another person to drop off their mail ballots on their behalf. Democrats say that allowing third parties to transport ballots can help vulnerable voters. But Republicans call the practice “ballot harvesting,” saying it invites fraud. The bill would also create independent panels to draw voting districts in each state to end partisan gerrymandering.
But what would ensure the death of the bill is the Senate’s antiquated filibuster rule that requires at 60 votes to muster passage. With the Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, the bill would fail to pass unless ten Republicans cast their votes with the Democrats.
The only way to pass the Voting Rights bill is to eliminate the filibuster or create a carve-out for civil rights or voting rights legislation, a procedure known as the “nuclear option.”
Nuclear option is a parliamentary procedure, which allows the Senate to override a standing rule by a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds supermajority normally required to amend Senate rules.
The way it works, the Senate Majority Leader – in this case, Sen. Chuck Schumer — would raise a point of order that contravenes a standing rule, meaning the 60-vote filibuster threshold. The presiding officer – Vice President Kamala Harris – would then deny the point of order based on Senate rules and precedents; which would then be appealed and overturned by a simple majority vote, thus establishing a new precedent. The problem is that Senators Sinema and Manchin would vote against it; thus failing to get a majority vote. In other words, any way you look at it, there is no way out of this dilemma unless the Democrats are united.
In 2017, it was invoked by a Senate Republican majority led by Mitch McConnell, which eliminated the 60-vote rule for Supreme Court nominations; thus, confirming then-President Donald Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees. Had the Democrats stood firm against creating a carve-out for Trump’s appointees, Democratic appointees would have controlled the Supreme Court today.
It’s interesting to note that two Democrats – Manchin and Sinema — wouldn’t support eliminating the filibuster “under any circumstances,” which begs the question: Why is it that they were hell-bent in opposing their fellow Democrats’ attempt to pass the voting rights bill? In order to maintain a fair and equitable democratic institution, Americans need to fully – and without exception — exercise their right to vote.
Sinema dooms Biden agenda
Last January 13, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema stoically stood before the Senate floor – as President was on his way to the Capitol to meet with Democrats to push for the Voting Rights bill – and to everybody’s surprise reiterated that she is not backing off her position to uphold the filibuster. Biden lost her vote before Biden could pitch to Democrats on eradicating it. She said removing the filibuster would not guarantee “that we prevent demagogues from being elected” and that getting rid of it would merely be treating the “symptom” of partisanship and not the underlying problem. But she is the “symptom” of an incurable disease called “egotistical attitude.”
She said that while she continues to “strongly back Democrats’ elections legislation” she would not support “separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country. There’s no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation.” Doesn’t she realize that her opposition would further propagate the “disease of division” that she herself abhors?
“When one party needs only to negotiate with itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle towards the extremes,” she added, noting that she does not support that outcome, and she knows “Arizonans do not either.” Is supporting voting rights legislation for the benefit of all Americans an extremist viewpoint?
Arizona Democratic Party chair Raquel Terán criticized Sinema, saying the party was “disappointed to say the least that she has chosen to protect an antiquated rule over her constituents.”
Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego said that he has not ruled out running against Sinema in the 2024 Senate primary. “We won’t shrink from protecting our democracy and the voting rights of all Americans,” he said. “It’s past time for the US Senate and Senator Sinema to do the same.”
Sinema’s wish list
Sinema acknowledged that she would support voting rights bills coming from the House. However, she is not going to support a change to the filibuster rule. She argued the country needs a “sustained robust effort to defend American Democracy.” Isn’t it that voting rights is the foundation of American Democracy? Didn’t the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 open the way for all Americans – regardless of race, religion, political belief, and sexual orientation — to avail of their 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution? Does Sinema have a problem with that?
She then recited a litany of issues such as “supporting state and local candidates who represent the values enshrined in our Constitution,” ensuring that “we have a judiciary that is less lopsided in its political leanings,” and “confront and combat the rise of rampant disinformation.”
It’s amazing how Sinema could come up with a lot of “wishful thinking ideas” to put on the front burner but at the same time put voting rights and civil rights legislation on the back burner. Simply put, it’s not going to work because if Congress needs to address Sinema’s “wishful thinking list,” she should – nay, must — cast her vote to eliminate filibuster or carve-out it out and then cast her vote to pass the voting rights legislation. She needs to put just these two items on her “to do list.” It’s as simple as that. She doesn’t have to go through the rigmarole of chasing unrealistic goals on her long “wish list.”
PHOTO CREDIT: U.S. House office of photography