A casual internet search on the term “save democracy” will retrieve countless articles and opinion pieces from major media outlets contending that free elections in the U.S. will soon be a thing of the past if Congress fails to pass “voting rights” legislation now. The following Washington Post headline is typically portentous: “Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin mull whether democracy is worth saving.” It is little more than an ad hominem attack on the only two Democrats who have resisted pressure to eliminate an arcane Senate rule in order to facilitate federal usurpation of state election prerogatives outlined in the Constitution.
The alarming irony is that these two Senators constitute the only bulwark protecting the nation’s historically decentralized election system from a one-size-fits-all, Beltway-dominated scheme designed by and for the Democrats. Even more unnerving is that both favor “election reform.” Indeed, Manchin is among the co-sponsors of the “Freedom to Vote Act.” His sole concern about this bill involves the necessity of altering the filibuster to get it passed. And the Democrats are desperate to do so, as President Biden revealed with this tirade at the Dec. 14 meeting of the Democratic National Committee:
Today, the right to vote and the rule of law are under unrelenting assault from Republican governors, attorney generals, secretaries of state, state legislators. They’re following my predecessor deep into the abyss. The struggle is no longer just who gets to vote or making it easier for eligible people to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all. It’s a sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion. It’s un-American. It’s un-democratic.
Every syllable of this diatribe is fiction, but Biden inadvertently revealed the true impetus behind the “voting rights” push. As the Brennan Center for Justice laments, at least 19 states have passed election integrity laws in 2021. And, as Biden’s wild mischaracterization of them suggests, he knows they are a threat to his party. As Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) puts it, “Any time Democrats say something is a ‘threat to Democracy,’ it really means a threat to the Democrat Party.” They know, if they can’t win in states like Virginia they don’t have a prayer in states that actually take election integrity seriously.
Last month’s election in the Old Dominion highlighted how vulnerable the Democrats will be in next year’s midterms if they can’t find some way to federalize our elections such that the states have far less control than the Founders intended. Consequently, the pressure on Manchin and Sinema is increasing exponentially. Both insist that the long term interests of the Senate and the Democratic Party will be better served by leaving the filibuster unmolested. Yet, Greg Sargent reports that Manchin and other Senate Democrats are still meeting to discuss various options for carving out a filibuster exception:
Manchin remains reluctant to support anything seen as a “slippery slope” to ending the filibuster entirely. So it’s more likely he’d support reforms that stop short of a full carve-out of the filibuster to pass voting legislation. Such reforms could include requiring the minority to hold the floor to sustain a filibuster, or requiring 41 votes to sustain one, rather than requiring 60 to end one.… Manchin is more open to ideas like these, because they can legitimately be described as “restoring the filibuster.”
All of which suggests that Manchin’s commitment to preserving the filibuster is less about genuine principles than the absence of a plausible excuse for such a cynical betrayal of his constituents. A recent survey of West Virginia voters by MBE Research found the following: “Sixty-seven percent (67%) of those surveyed agreed with continued use of the filibuster in the US Senate compared to 26% who disagreed with its continued use.” Manchin isn’t up for reelection until 2024, however, so he may calculate that he can survive a vote to alter the filibuster ostensibly to “restore it to its original purpose.”
Moreover, his Sunday morning announcement that he won’t support the Build Back Better Act (BBB) enhances his carefully crafted image as a man of principle: “I have always said, ‘If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.’ Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia.” This will provide Manchin cover to vote for “filibuster reform.” If he does, Sinema will also cave and the Freedom to Vote Act will sail through Congress and Biden will sign it into law. Ironically, this bill would be more difficult to “explain” than BBB and it is more dangerous to democracy:
Inevitably, the Freedom to Vote Act is full of unconstitutional provisions. It commandeers the broad authority to regulate all elections — congressional and presidential. The latter is an expansion of federal power that is clearly incompatible with the plain text of the Constitution, which vests state lawmakers — not Congress — with the manner of choosing presidential electors. Likewise, it does considerable violence to the First Amendment by requiring “super PACs, 501(c)(4) groups, and other organizations spending money in elections to disclose donors,” an unambiguous infringement of political speech.
The For the People Act is obviously not an attempt to “save democracy.” It is a dangerous Hail Mary whose obvious purpose is to save the Democrats from the consequences of their bad policies and worse leadership. It would unleash an avalanche of constitutional challenges just as we begin an election cycle, produce even more chaos at the ballot box than the voters experienced in 2020, and further undermine the public’s confidence in the overall election system. This isn’t what the country needs at this moment. If the Democrats really want to save democracy, they will stop meddling with it — right now!