How Much More Democracy Can GOP-led States Stand to Lose?

For all their sturm und drang about “big government,” republicans really don’t have a problem with government intervention as long it helps boost their wealthy campaign contributors’ profits, prevents voters they don’t want to include from voting, and insinuates them in women’s reproductive business.

One week after the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) voted to uphold the most radical abortion law in the country, Senate Bill 8, aka the “heartbeat bill,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott clamped down on democracy again by signing Senate Bill 1, draconian legislation that constrains state election laws and local control of elections by hampering counties’ ability to expand voting opportunities.

The bill specifically bans 24-hour and drive-through voting, erects fresh barriers for mail-in ballots, and empowers partisan poll watchers.

The new law is slated to take effect three months after the state’s special legislative session–just in time, not coincidentally, for next year’s mid-term elections.

Lawsuits have already started.

One argues the bill creates new obstacles and restrictions intentionally designed to suppress votes, and violates the U.S. Constitution in addition to several federal laws.

Voto Latino CEO, Maria Teresa Kumar, a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, explained:

“SB 1 is an arduous law designed to limit Tejanos’ ability to exercise their full citizenship. Not only are we filing suit to protect the right to vote for all people of color, and the additional 250,000 young Latino Tejanos who will reach voting age in 2022, but to protect every Texan’s right to vote.”

A second suit contends the law violates the Texas Constitution, especially its protection against racial discrimination.

Plaintiffs in another federal lawsuit argue they are trying to “ensure that the State does not continue to erect barriers” that have both the “intent and effect” of suppressing marginalized Texans’ votes.

In their complaint, plaintiffs claim:

“These provisions will harm all Texas voters, but consistent with Jim Crow era tradition, the burdens will be disproportionately borne by Black and Latino voters and voters with disabilities. S.B. 1 intentionally targets and burdens methods and opportunities of voting used by and responsive to the needs of voters of color, particularly Black and Latino voters, and other vulnerable voters, as evidenced by the 2020 elections.”

Former U.S. attorney general during the Obama administration lamented:

“SB 1 is an appalling, anti-democracy effort by Texas Republicans to construct barriers to voting for people they believe will not support them. What makes this bill and similar ones Republicans are pushing across the country even more un-American is that Republicans are using the ‘Big Lie’ about the 2020 election as a pretext to support them. The reality is that these bills have nothing to do with election integrity or security, but rather are discriminatory measures making it harder for all people to vote. These bills will have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.”

Not coincidentally, zeroes in on Harris county, specifically Houston, the most diverse setting in the state, that last year provided the very provisions the bill outlaws.

As CNN reported:

“The bill restricts the hours counties can offer early voting to between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. And it prohibits tactics like the ones Harris County used in 2020, when a garage at the Toyota Center — the home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets–was among the venues used as a place residents could vote from their vehicles.”

Texas state Rep. Garnet Coleman lamented:

“I was born in segregation. We think we’ve made progress, and then all of a sudden there’s a new law that moves us back in time.”

Republicans can’t win unless they cheat.

Record turnout in last year’s election threw them into a tailspin.

They do not want democracy.

They want oligarchy.

But they know Americans outside the extremely rich do not.

So to maintain their wealthy donors’ hegemony, they work tirelessly to prevent voters from exercising their civic duty to choose whom they want to represent them.

And it isn’t like it’s been a secret.

Republicans have been wagging their voter suppression flag in our faces since Paul Weyrich, the Heritage Foundation founder and “founding father of the conservative movement,” announced as much in a speech to a religious right group in Dallas in 1980.

We needn’t look any further than at recent bills in republican-majority states to understand how the “Grand Old Party” is sowing the seeds of future victories by preventing the 2020 turnout from ever happening again.

The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) is tracking hundreds of bills republican-led states are pushing to change ballot measure processes, restrict voting, criminalize peaceful protest, revoke authority from state courts and local election boards, and discard votes that aren’t for them.

In March, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation to strip election control from local and county election boards in order to impose new voter ID requirements, limit mail-in ballot drop boxes, reject entire ballots erroneously misdelivered to incorrect precincts, allow conservative activists to challenge voters’ eligibility, even criminalize distributing pizza and water to voters waiting in line for their turn to cast their ballots.

Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis followed suit.

Other restrictive bills have been signed in IowaArkansas, and Utah.

Now, more than ever in since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, we need to pass comprehensive federal voting reforms.

HR1, or the “For the People Act,” does that.

Re-introduced this January, HR1 passed 220-210 on March 3 with no Republican support and only one Democrat opposing.

It now sits as S.1 in the 50/50 Senate awaiting certain filibuster.

Specifically, it seeks, in part, to:

The Senate needs to pass S.1.

But, as Vox reports, there are several obstacles.

The first is none other than the filibuster, a racist anachronism invented to placate a once-insatiable slave-holding South.

The second issue is the number of centrist Democrats–WV Sen. Joe Manchin and Ariz. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema paramount among them–perfectly fine with the current Senate rules, gridlock and all.

As Vox’s 

“The third problem is that, even if Democrats lined up the votes to abolish the filibuster somehow, Manchin has said he’s inclined to oppose any party-line effort to overhaul voting in the country. If Manchin holds firm on this, the For the People Act is essentially dead.”

Prokop adds:

“The party has near-unanimity around the bill in public, with all but one House Democrat voting for it, and every Senate Democrat except Manchin co-sponsors it. But some members of the Congressional Black Caucus aren’t thrilled about it (fearing its redistricting reforms would dilute predominantly Black districts), and moderate senators have doubts as well.”

So what’s to be done?

All 50 Democrat senators–Joe Manchin included–must not only support the bill, but a Senate rules change to advance S.1 with a simple majority and circumvent a filibuster.

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) has the power to put pressure on Manchin.

So, of course, does President Biden.

Biden hosted Manchin and others at the White House this week to discuss the American Jobs Plan.

We don’t know if S.1 was part of that dialog.

In the meantime, we can contact our senators at 202-224-3121 and let them know our concerns.

They work for us, after all.

Image credit: Mirah Curzer via Unsplash

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.