When Republicans filibustered the For the People Act for the second time back in August, pundits unwisely declared the chances of a voting rights bill passing the Senate dead. Republicans were dedicated to blocking anything that would ensure all Americans can safely and freely cast their ballots.
Fortunately, every Democrat in the Senate believes we should have safe, accessible elections; that we must protect the freedom to vote, ensure fair representation and limit the influence of big money in politics.
They also recognize the damage being done across the country by a faction of self-serving politicians who are working with dark money groups to pass an array of anti-voting bills state by state.
Now, a compromise bill, the Freedom the Vote Act — based on the For the People Act and a framework announced by Sen. Joe Manchin earlier this summer — offers Democrats a path forward. Manchin worked closely with Senate Majority Leader Schumer, Sens. Klobuchar, Merkley, Warnock and other leaders on these issues in the caucus to produce a bill that has support from every Democrat in the Senate. This is the vehicle that can become law.
The bill would end dark money so that billionaires can’t buy elections and stop partisan gerrymandering so that voters pick their elected officials instead of politicians picking their voters. It also would protect the freedom to vote for all Americans and counter the anti-voting bills that have passed in Texas, Georgia, Arizona and across the country.
Americans in both parties share these values. We understand that our democracy works better when everyone has a voice and a vote. The Freedom to Vote Act draws from those ideals and takes ideas from both parties to ensure we have safe, secure elections and that every American has the same rights and access to the ballot, no matter where they live.
If, as we suspect, Republicans continue their blockade, the Senate must immediately reform its procedures to allow for consideration and an up or down vote on the compromise legislation.
The freedom to vote is too important for outdated procedures to stand in the way.
Democrats can reform the filibuster in a number of ways to ensure this popular voting rights legislation can pass with a simple majority of votes, instead of 60, which is the current threshold for the filibuster.
The Senate has reformed the filibuster a number of times, including lowering the vote threshold to overcome a filibuster and creating carve-outs for fast tracking trade deals, confirming judges and closing military bases, among other items. The Senate has even cut taxes for corporations with a carve-out from the filibuster. It has used these carve-outs over 160 times since 1969.
If the Senate can do all of that with 51 votes, certainly it can protect the freedom to vote with a simple majority. President Biden himself voted to reform the filibuster eight times when he was in the Senate. And Manchin has previously cosponsored and voted for other bills to reform the filibuster.
The Senate must act quickly, as states need ample time to implement many of the voter protections in the Freedom to Vote Act, especially states with early primaries.
Further, many states are beginning the process of redrawing Congressional districts. And Republican politicians have been bold and brash in their candor that they’ll use gerrymandering to draw crooked, partisan and unfair maps that break up communities and dilute the power of voters. The earliest of these maps are expected this month.
Thanks to the bill being co-led by Manchin, we can ensure that all Americans have a say in our democracy. That all of us, not just corporate interests, big donors and dark money groups, have a voice in the decisions that affect us and our families, like the costs of health care and prescription drugs or how we respond to the COVID-19 epidemic.
It is in all of our interests that we have a fair, level playing field and that our democracy serves everyone. That’s why every senator of good conscience must do whatever it takes to pass this bill.
Tiffany Muller is the President of End Citizens United and Let America Vote.