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2021 was awful for voter suppression, but 2022 may not be better

Nineteen states approved new restrictions on voting in 2021. Unless Senate Democrats intervene, things are likely to get worse in 2022.


More than once this year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to his party's voter suppression efforts by pretending they didn't exist. "States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever," the GOP leader told reporters in March. "The biggest lie being told in American politics in recent weeks has been that the states are involved in a systematic effort to suppress the vote," the Kentuckian added months later.

The truth was more crushing. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law issued a report in the fall explaining that too many state legislatures "have proposed and enacted legislation to make it harder for Americans to vote, justifying these measures with falsehoods steeped in racism about election irregularities and breaches of election security."

In all, against a backdrop of Donald Trump's Big Lie, 19 states approved 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to participate in their own democracy in 2021.

That's a brutal tally, which may yet get worse in 2022. NBC News reported:

So far, Republican legislators in four states — Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina — have pre-filed at least 13 bills that the organization says would make it harder to vote. Nine other states will carry over 88 restrictive bills from the last legislative session. Legislators in five states — Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Tennessee — have also filed six bills to initiate or allow partisan ballot reviews. Four would initiate such reviews for the 2020 election results, according to the Brennan Center.

The New York Times recently published a related report, highlighting a "new wave of Republican legislation to reshape the nation's electoral system," which is planned for next year. The article added, "The Republican drive, motivated in part by a widespread denial of former President Donald J. Trump's defeat last year, includes both voting restrictions and measures that could sow public confusion or undermine confidence in fair elections, and will significantly raise the stakes of the 2022 midterms."

Rick Hasen, a professor and election law expert at UC Irvine, told NBC News, "There is a continual drumbeat from the former president that the election was stolen — this is an issue that state legislators feel pressure from Trump from above and from the base from below that's demanding that steps be taken. So this is an issue that's going to remain, unfortunately, front and center."

Federal policymakers are not powerless on this issue. There are two worthwhile bills pending on Capitol Hill — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — which would make an enormous difference in protecting the franchise.

Senate Republicans not only oppose both, they've already vowed to use filibusters to block the chamber from holding up-down-votes on either bill.

This leaves Democrats with two choices. First, they could do nothing as GOP officials aggressively chip away at democracy.

Second, they could create a voting-rights exception to the Senate's filibuster rules. There's been evidence of meaningful momentum along these lines in recent weeks, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer continues to make strides, endorsing a plan this week to advance the Freedom to Vote Act by majority rule. Indeed, during a special Senate Democratic Conference meeting this week, he said he fully intends to call the question early in the new year, bringing the matter to the floor.

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona continues to stand in the way of progress, and it's an open question as to what Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia intends to do, but as we discussed yesterday, Schumer is clearly determined to push forward anyway.

Watch this space.

Update: President Joe Biden is on board with making the change. “If the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster, I support making the exception of voting rights for the filibuster," he told ABC News yesterday.