Reform the Filibuster To Save Democracy

By Lisa Gilbert

The For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) is a sweeping package of voting rights, gerrymandering, election, ethics and campaign finance reforms that will clean up Washington, expand voting rights, and limit discriminatory voter suppression tactics. Poll after poll shows that the American people — Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike — want this ambitious reform package to become law, but the filibuster — an antiquated relic of the Jim Crow era — may stand in its way.

This week, the House of Representatives passed H.R.1. From there, it goes to the Senate where Republicans may wield the filibuster as a tool of obstruction and send this critical legislation to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bill graveyard — once again.

The Senate minority shouldn’t be able to block popular legislation, especially bills like the For the People Act, which is integral to a functioning democracy.

The filibuster is an outdated procedural tool that requires 60 votes to advance bills and has historically been used to block civil rights legislation. In recent years, the simple threat of objection through the filibuster has killed numerous important bills.

The For the People Act is the most ambitious democracy reform package since Watergate. It bans partisan gerrymandering, makes it easier to register to vote, enhances election security, and prohibits purges that kick eligible voters off the registration rolls. It also reduces the influence of big money in our politics by increasing transparency and oversight while making it easier for everyday Americans — untethered to special interest cash — to run for office by establishing a small-donor matching system paid for by a small tax on corporate malfeasance.

To be clear, blocking the For the People Act in the Senate is a war on democracy. Mitch McConnell enabled Trump’s historic attack on democracy. He should not be allowed to use the obstructionist power of the filibuster to cement a legacy that puts partisan political power before people. As long as McConnell can wield the filibuster, we will struggle to pass the transformative democracy reform we need to repair what’s broken and stop further damage.

Sen. McConnell is a fierce defender of special interests and their “dark money” campaign cash. He has spent decades fighting against commonsense campaign finance reform. He praised the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts in elections. McConnell has even admitted that high voter turnout will hurt his own party. Really, it’s no surprise that McConnell opposes the For the People Act — his allegiance is to special interests, not the American people and a representative democracy.

Without the For the People Act, newly accelerated voter suppression efforts in the states — driven by Trump’s unfounded lies about election fraud — will further erode democracy. These extreme bills include repeals of no-excuse absentee voting, strict voter ID laws, reductions in voter registration opportunities, and aggressive voter roll purges. As of February 19, there were 253 voter suppression bills moving through 43 state legislatures across the country — a 400% increase over previous years. If passed, we’ll see prohibitively long lines at polling places, voters unjustly kicked off the rolls, and reduced turnout. But the threat to our democracy doesn’t stop there.

Many state legislatures will begin their decennial redistricting process in the coming months. Without the For the People Act’s explicit barring of racist and partisan gerrymandering, lawmakers can draw severely gerrymandered districts that rig the game in their party’s favor and lock in minority rule for a full decade — further depriving people of color of political power. The urgency couldn’t be greater.

America has long failed in its promise of a truly “free and fair” election and ensuring equality for all, but throughout history Congress has acted to right injustice. From the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote to the 1965 Voting Rights Act and 26th Amendment lowering the voting age to 18. The For the People Act is another opportunity to expand voting rights and advance the promise of a truly representative democracy, and we must pass it.

President Biden and the Senate Democrats’ electoral victories last November were delivered by communities with the most to lose if we fail to pass this bill. Black and Brown voters showed up in record numbers in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada. They cast their ballots demanding change — economic justice and an end to the cruel and racist policies of President Trump — and Democrats must find a way to deliver. We can’t allow an antiquated Senate procedure — rightly coined a “Jim Crow Era relic” — to systematically disenfranchise the growing majority of American voters.

The American people sent a clear message in November. They want life to get demonstrably better, and Democrats must find a way to deliver. We need the For the People Act so we can protect and expand the right to vote, save our democracy, and tackle the many urgent crises our nation faces.

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