A heated debate about the foundations of America‘s democracy will start tomorrow in the United States Senate. With the Republicans changing local electoral laws all over the country. And the Democrats who see a subversion of democracy in it. The debate is therefore ‘fair elections‘, but both parties seem to mean something different by that.
The Democrats have proposed two new laws, which should guarantee equal access to the ballot box for all. But despite their majorities in Congress, they don’t seem to be able to get those laws through. Two senators from their own camp are in favour of the legislative changes, but block the way they should be passed.
And so President Biden has been on the attack since the beginning of this month. He says America is engaged in a “battle for the soul of the nation” and Republicans are out for chaos. The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, calls that a rant of a “reckless and inflammatory” president.
Those bright words are getting extra charge today on Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday in America. Part of Kings struggle in the 50s and 60s was about the equal right of minorities to participate in the democratic process. According to many Black Americans, the promised country King saw is now being blocked again by the Republicans.
Changes in 19 states
Because that‘s what Democratic concerns are about. Since the 2020 presidential election, the prevailing story in the Republican party has been that large-scale fraud was committed in that election. That claim has been refuted in dozens of lawsuits, high-ranking officials from the government of Biden’s predecessor Trump also call it a lie.
Nevertheless, in 2021, this story led to action in a large number of places in America. In nineteen states where Republicans have the majority in the state parliament, it has come to legislative changes, changing the rules for elections.
For example, voting by mail and the ways in which a voter can identify themselves are curtailed. And the number of polling stations will be reduced. Measures that have the result that turnout will be lower: the infamous voter suppression. And that affects, the Democrats say, especially poor Americans and minorities such as blacks.
In addition, in a number of states, the way in which the election result is determined is changing. For example, in Arizona, a majority in the state parliament can infuture declare the result invalid. In Georgia, a committee has been made responsible for this, which is appointed by parliament. Republicans have the majority in both state parliaments. In this way, party interests are between the voter and the election result, say the Democrats.
Correspondent Marieke de Vries was in Georgia last weekend, the cradle of the civil rights movement in America. There are action meetings for access to the ballot box again these days:
Democrats are now trying to stop all these changes with two new electoral laws that should anchor access to the ballot box at the federal level. So that every state is no longer allowed to determine the rules of the elections on its own. Removing this kind of fundamental rights from states is sensitive in America, Republicans oppose it.
In the proposed electoral laws, Democrats want to protect the independence of electoral committees, prohibit local rules that promote discrimination and prevent the reclassization of constituencies. In the future, voters must also be automatically registered to vote and can be voted anywhere for 15 days.
The Republicans in the House and Senate are unanimously opposed. They say they leave far too much room for fraud and irregularities. According to Republicans, Democrats are not really concerned at all about the safety of the ballot box run, as long as they find a way to win.
So Democrats have a majority in Congress and should therefore just get the new laws through it. But they run into a common trick in the Senate, where a law cannot be passed as long as one senator is still speaking; the filibuster. That senator can only be stopped when a bill has 60 percent of the votes.
The call has now emerged among Democrats to abolish that filibuster. A drastic step also known as a ‘nuclear route’, because the filibuster is seen as a tradition that forces the two parties to compromise. Yet even President Biden spoke out for abolition for the first time last week, in order to get the electoral laws through.
Even that should not benefit: two Democratic senators remain against abolition of thefilibuster and thereby block the route to the new electoral laws. This fight over the filibuster will lead to a lot of frustration and anger in the coming days. From Democrats who, in their eyes, see a last chance to save democracy stranded on resistance from their own ranks.