Declaring that the very foundation and future of American democracy, as well as its international reputation, were on the line, US President Joe Biden made his most forceful push yet for the passage of two voting-rights bills, and threw his support behind changing Senate rules to overcome Republican opposition.
Biden remarked on Tuesday in Atlanta, shortly after meeting Martin Luther King Jr.’s family, that “the right to vote and have that vote counted is democracy’s fundamental liberty,” in the company of Vice President Kamala Harris, voting rights advocates, and senior Black Democratic Party leaders.
The fight over voting rights refers to who gets to vote, how, where, who counts the ballots, and who certifies the election. It is arguably the most divisive political topic in American politics right now. Over the last decade, the divide between Republicans and Democrats on all of these issues has widened.
The Republicans, according to Joe Biden, have chosen the “wrong path, the undemocratic way” in reaction to the tremendous work done to improve voter registration, increase voting access, and deepen civil rights. “Too many people voting in a democracy is a problem for them.” As a result, they’re erecting barriers.”
He then gave specific examples of Republican efforts to limit voter access, such as attempting to make voting by mail more difficult; limiting the number of drop boxes where voters could drop their ballots off and reducing the number of hours they could do so; restricting the provision of food and water to those waiting in voting lines on election day (as a Georgia law does); and making it easier to remove election officials who had followed the law in 2020 and appoint partisan clericals.
“In only one year, 19 states proposed and adopted 34 laws aimed at restricting voting rights…
Voter suppression and election tampering are at the heart of Jim Crow 2.0. It’s no longer about who gets to vote; instead, it’s about making voting more difficult. “It’s about who gets to count the votes and whether or not your vote matters,” Joe Biden remarked.
“The facts won’t matter; your vote won’t matter,” he continued, claiming that the intention of the “previous president” – Biden does not refer to Donald Trump by name – and his friends was to “disenfranchise” anyone who voted against them. That level of power is only found in totalitarian states, not democracies.”
The US president said that the world was watching, citing a G-7 summit where friends asked him, “For how long?” in response to his boast that America was back. “As someone who has spent his whole career working in foreign affairs, I never expected to hear our allies say something like that.”
Joe Biden made a pitch to Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which he claimed would ensure full access to voting by mail, enough drop boxes during enough hours, food and water for people waiting in lines, protection of non-partisan election officials from intimidation and interference, get dark money out of politics, create fairer district maps, and end partisan gerrymandering. The latter would reinstate federal oversight of election law changes in states with a history of racial discrimination, a crucial element of the Voting Rights Act that was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013.
With 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, the Senate is evenly split. On paper, the Democrats have a simple majority to pass the two bills thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. However, the filibustering tradition in the Senate effectively requires Democrats to have 60 votes to enact legislation. For the first time, Biden fought against this section in Atlanta.
“The United States Senate, which was intended to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been reduced to a husk. As an institutionalist and as a man who was honoured to serve in the Senate, it gives me no satisfaction to say that. The threat to our democracy is so serious that we must find a method to pass, debate, and vote on these voting rights laws. Allow the majority to rule. If that minimal minimum is not met, we will have no choice but to modify Senate rules, including eliminating the filibuster.”