The Voting Rights Mess

If Pres. Joe Biden and Vice Pres. Kamala Harris went down to Georgia yesterday to shoot themselves in the foot, well, mission accomplished. They can hobble around Washington now because they came back weaker than when they left.

The campaign swing through Georgia was designed to show their base that the administration is fired up about passing the Democrats’ voting rights bill. But the trip only served to emphasize the fissures in the party. Stacey Abrams and other state activists boycotted the event, claiming that Biden hasn’t done enough.

Exactly what he could have done isn’t clear. He has two problems and they’re named Manchin and Sinema. Both oppose changes to the filibuster, which means that the bill would need 10 Republicans to join all the Democrats to get the bill passed. That’s not going to happen. And, in fact, even if the filibuster was dispatched, there’s still no assurance the bill would pass because Manchin opposes at least some of it. (Actually there are two bills in question — the broad voting rights bill and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which restores some federal protections in states with a history of denying the vote to minorities. Manchin has indicated some support for the latter.)

Biden shouts into the wind yesterday in Georgia.

So, the net result of the Biden-Harris trip was to; A) remind the party’s activist base that, in the opinion of Georgia activists, Biden isn’t doing enough, and B) focus the public’s attention on a bill that has no chance of passage, thus reenforcing the idea that the administration can’t get anything done.

Nonetheless, Biden probably had to do what he did because almost a year ago he allowed his party’s hard-left to put him into a corner he now has to fight his way out of. The reaction among liberals to a voting bill passed by Georgia Republicans last spring after their party lost the presidential vote plus two Senate races was way over the top. Biden himself repeated the mantra that this was “Jim Crow 2.0.” But it was nothing of the sort.

Here’s what New York Times Wonk-in-Chief Nate Cohn had to say in his analysis of the Georgia law last April: “And yet the law’s voting provisions are unlikely to significantly affect turnout or Democratic chances. It could plausibly even increase turnout. In the final account, it will probably be hard to say whether it had any effect on turnout at all.”

Cohn’s read is that the Georgia law did, in fact, tighten rules for things like drop boxes, from what they were during the pandemic period election in the fall of 2020, but that these rules are still more liberal than they were before the pandemic. Were the Republicans trying to make it a little harder for Blacks and other Democratic constituencies to vote than it had been during the pandemic election? Yes, but was it just like poll taxes and literacy tests? That assertion is so ridiculous that it devalues what Black voters went through in the Jim Crow era.

And Cohn’s analysis comes from that bastion of reactionary views, the New York Times.

In fact, as another Times columnist, David Brooks, pointed out just last week there’s little evidence that bills designed to dampen turnout actually accomplish that or, if they did, it would benefit Republicans. It’s a myth that high turnout benefits the GOP. In fact, there’s no evidence that the level of turnout works to either party’s advantage.

The problems isn’t turnout. We just came off an election with extremely high voter participation and what did it get us? The Democrats lost seats in the House when they were expected to pick up some and they won the Senate by the slimmest of margins and only by the grace of Donald Trump’s monumental stupidity. Republicans did very well down ticket in state legislative races.

Brooks makes a good case that the Democrats are focussing on the wrong problem. The real issue is Republican efforts to put the results of elections in the hands of their partisan hacks.

So this is the road that brought Biden to Atlanta yesterday. Last year his party way over-reacted to the voting bill in Georgia, probably as a means of firing up the base. They succeeded in getting said base so fired up that they demanded a sweeping federal bill that, while I support it myself, never had any chance of passage. Now Biden is being blamed for not fighting hard enough for it, even though there is nothing he can do if Joe Manchin won’t come along. But he needed to show that he was trying. So, he goes down to Georgia and the party activists thank him for his efforts by snubbing him.

And to make matters worse, Biden has now made a sure loser into his top priority, assuring him of another high-profile defeat. Instead of the party’s message being about rebuilding roads and bridges and expanding high speed Internet and giving working families a big tax cut, it’s about not passing Build Back Better and not passing the voting rights bill and not reforming the filibuster.

The only solution to the Democrats’ Manchin problem is to increase their Senate majority. This, folks, is not the way to do it.

Look, I support the voting rights bill, but it’s not going to pass. I support reforming the filibuster, but that’s not going to happen. If politics is the art of the possible, well then, let’s start practicing some politics.

Welcome to the 328th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “The Voting Rights Mess

  1. If I believe what I read in the papers, Republicans are working to put the vote counting system under partisan control. Trump’s team mounted a thought-out effort to get anyone involved in running the election who was willing to change the results in his favor. If this is true, this is an huge, existential problem. Rules about when and where people can vote are very unimportant compared to counting the votes fairly. If they make it hard to vote, people can still put in effort and cast their ballot. But if they don’t count the votes fairly, nothing can be done.

    This makes me wonder if the concerns about a partisan takeover of voting are overstated or the Biden administration is stupidly focused on an unimportant problem and ignore a huge problem.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: