Voting Rights in the US

Joe Biden supports new laws that will overturn voting restrictions for minorities in some Republican states.

The trend toward bipartisanship that has hijacked American politics, hopelessly accelerated by Donald Trump’s presidency, has reached the very core of the system: voting rights. This week, President Joe Biden supported a change in the Senate rules in order to pass a new federal voting rights bill. The goal is for Washington to set some limits on the laws certain Republican states are shamelessly passing, aimed at restricting the voting rights of minorities — who are traditionally Democratic — and that seek to affect the independence of the electoral process. In an election year, and following the lingering trauma of the effort to challenge the last presidential election results, this constitutes an emergency.

Biden was a senator for four decades. He built quite a reputation as man of consensus. He is committed to the idea that partisan changes are detrimental to the system, because they generate a spiral of resentment and end up causing backlash from the other party as soon as the majority changes. But certain realities have become obvious during the last year. First, democracy is under threat by an illiberal current that was spearheaded by Trump, a man who does not believe in the system. Second, Washington Republicans have no intention of putting a stop to this development. Third, the electoral system is fragile, and the rules drawn up by Republicans at the local level may have a disproportionate and unfair impact on key states. Federal regulations that guarantee voting access and a clean process are necessary. However, there are 50 Democratic senators. In the Senate, most laws require at least 60 votes in order to pass, a rule that brings up the filibuster. Intended to force consensus, in practice, however, the filibuster is a tool used to boycott proposed legislation. Frustrated Democrats have raised the possibility of using a “nuclear option” of changing the Senate rules to limit the filibuster. Whether they can do that remains unclear given the fact that at least two Democratic senators refuse to go along.

Trump blew up American political convention. Scandal after scandal, the country gradually discovered that many of the things it took for granted were, in fact, not written anywhere, but depend on honorably performing public service, with reverence for tradition, institutions and symbols. This includes managing elections. If there is no constitutional crisis in the United States at the moment, it is thanks to the fact that a handful of people, textbook Republicans among them, stood up to Trump. This is the context in which Biden is operating. Forcing the Senate rules would open an uncertain chapter in American democracy, and there is a distinct possibility it will turn against the Democrats. But when it comes to credible elections, there is too much at stake for it to hinge on a handful of people doing the right thing.

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