Those who suggest we should sacrifice the right to vote in order to preserve the filibuster are telling a fairy tale about a democracy gone bad.
As of this month, 19 states have passed 33 new laws since the 2020 election that will make it harder for Americans to vote. Using false allegations of voter fraud like a monster beneath the bed, Republican state legislatures have passed laws that make it harder to register to vote, stay registered, cast a ballot and have it counted. We’re already entering the next wave of voting rights violations, as data from the 2020 census is stretched and pulled into politically gerrymandered districts that will be with us for the decade.
Using false allegations of voter fraud like a monster beneath the bed, Republican state legislatures have passed laws that make it harder to register to vote, cast a ballot and have it counted.
These laws will make it much more difficult for some voters — and especially for people of color, people with disabilities, and people of lower economic status — to exercise their rights. Some of the statutes veer perilously close to enabling future candidates to do what former President Donald Trump and his allies attempted in 2020: cancel just enough votes to win.
Democrats have passed legislation in the House of Representatives that would provide a fix. But it’s come to a standstill in the Senate. That’s true even though Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., morphed the House’s Help America Vote Act into the less beefy but still important Freedom to Vote Act. He thought, unlike anyone who’s been paying attention to Congress over the last few years, that he could attract Republican votes. Whether Republicans are afraid of their party’s de facto leader or afraid of their own political prospects if all of their constituents are free to vote, the Senate floor vote last week made the state of play clear. We are losing ground, and dangerously so, in the fight to ensure American voters can exercise their most essential right in our democracy. But that’s OK! Because we’ll have something much more important, at least according to the Republicans and to Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — the filibuster.
In 2024, your state legislature may decide that because your majority-Black county voted Democratic in the presidential election, there must have been fraud involved. They may remove your local election officials and replace them with their own handpicked people who will “find” enough votes to “fix” the outcome of the election for the Republican — all legal because the Senate failed to pass the law that would have prevented states from doing this. When your vote isn’t counted, you can console yourself with the knowledge that the filibuster is still there for you.
In 2024, your state legislature may have made it so difficult for you to vote by mail that you have to vote in person on one of a limited number of days the polls are open. You may not be able to use a drop-off box or drive-thru voting. If you’re not able to take time off from work or you’re older or not physically able to stand in a long line, perhaps without water, for hours, you may not get to vote. But that’s OK because, thank God, the filibuster is intact.
Your polling place may change at the last moment and with little notice. There may be fewer polling places in your neighborhood, especially if you’re poor or Black. You may find yourself removed from the roll of active voters because your secretary of state deemed you inactive. But not to worry, you can feel good about the future knowing the Senate still has the filibuster in place.
Fewer days for early voting? No Sundays? Strict, expensive identification requirements in order to vote? Who cares? Hooray for the filibuster! At least, unless the Republicans take back the Senate and decide that it’s inconvenient.
Not to worry, you can feel good about the future knowing the Senate still has the filibuster in place.
Everyone knows that if the Republicans were in power and ending the filibuster was essential to achieving their agenda, it wouldn’t last a nanosecond. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would do away with it with the same straight face he used to both deny Merrick Garland a Supreme Court confirmation vote because it was a presidential election year and give Amy Coney Barrett one after voting had already started in 2020. But no matter, we’re on track to sacrifice voting rights to preserve the filibuster. And that should be enough for us — at least until Republicans decide it serves their purposes to kill it.
We all instinctively understand the appeal of compromise. And in a perfect world, where the Republican Party was interested in bipartisanship, it's a great goal. But it takes two to tango, and the Republicans are no longer interested in dancing. So with Manchin and Sinema still firmly on record as saying they won’t accept any filibuster carve-out, even one that would just protect voting, the prognosis is bleak. The two senators haven’t even agreed to a more moderate approach: the restoration of the “standing filibuster.” That’s the traditional process that requires legislators to actually take the floor of the Senate to filibuster — as Wendy Davis famously did in Texas in 2013 — instead of sleeping comfortably in their own beds while democracy dies.
Ultimately voting, not the filibuster, is what’s most essential to democracy. The filibuster is a vestigial appendix. No amount of concessions or compromises by Democrats trying to negotiate with themselves to demonstrate their commitment to fair play will change the Republican Party’s goals right now. The best Democrats can do is preserve the Republic for the day when the GOP either moves on from its cult of Trumpian devotion or is tossed into the dustbin of history. The worst thing Democrats can do right now is prioritize decorum and outmoded tradition over the right to vote. But that's precisely what's happening. Long live the filibuster.