Democrats will have only themselves to blame if they let Republicans make voting harder

With an urgency that Republicans never summoned to confront the deadliest pandemic of the century, the GOP is waging a nuclear war on voting rights. 

There’s some debate over whether the 253 bills introduced this year to restrict voting in 43 states constitute the worst attack on ballot access since Reconstruction, or just since America elected its first Black president. But what’s obvious is this: The Republican Party is heeding former President Donald Trump’s cynical cry to pass “comprehensive election reforms” inspired by his deadly “Big Lie.” And the chief “reform” they have in mind is making it harder for Democrats, especially Black voters in key states like Georgia, to cast a ballot. 

For this GOP, 530,000 dead Americans will never be as much of an emergency as 81 million votes for a Democratic presidential candidate.

Voters will love these election reforms

All Americans should be appalled by this coordinated assault on what Ronald Reagan called “the crown jewel of American liberties.” But Democrats in Congress, especially in the Senate, don’t have time be disgusted. They need to focus on the sad fact that this pathetic plot to steal the elections for the next decade or more could very well work. Easily. Yet it could also be prevented, almost as easily, and with widespread support from voters. We know this because it’s already happened in my home state of Michigan.

First, here are some numbers that show that we know this plot against majority rule could work:

Joe Biden got 7 million more votes than Trump. House Democrats won nearly 4.7 million votes more than their Republican opponents. The 50 U.S. senators who caucus with the Democrats represent over 41 million more Americans than their 50 Republican colleagues. And despite their massive deficits in the popular vote, Republicans could control every branch of government right now if about 90,000 votes had flipped their way. 

Voting polls on Jan. 5, 2021, in Atlanta. (Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Out of 155.5 million votes cast, 90,000 votes is a rounding error on a rounding error. Yet if they’d just kept that many Americans from the polls, Republicans would have been rewarded for Trump’s failures with complete control of Washington.

But here are the numbers that show we know we can fix it — and voters will love the fix.

Trump won Michigan in 2016 byjust 0.23 percentage points. In 2020, Biden’s winning 2.8-point margin was over 12 times that big. But what happened in my home state two years earlier, in 2018, may be even more important. In the one midterm election of Trump’s presidency, 61% of Michigan’s voters passed Proposal 2 (creating an independent, nonpartisan redistricting committee) and 67% passed Proposal 3  (amending the state Constitution to include automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and no-excuse absentee voting.) 

Voting rights: The Georgia Republican Party wants to set voting rights back decades. Is your state next?

Both did better than a victorious proposal legalizing marijuana, which has been an issue in my state since December 1971 — when John Lennon visited Ann Arbor to play a concert to free John Sinclair, who was jailed for selling two joints. 

Proposals 2 and 3 make up many of the key components of H.R. 1, The For the People Act of 2021 passed by the House. H.R. 1 would “thwart virtually every single” attempt state-level Republicans are making to suppress the vote, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. Elizabeth Hira, a Brennan Center attorney, calls it “the next great civil rights bill.” 

Don’t hand our democracy to the GOP

These massive upgrades of our federal electoral system are desperately needed. So is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the power of the federal government to review potentially discriminatory changes to elections before they go into effect. Passage of the two bills would make the GOP’s effort to suppress votes futile gestures from a party that believes it can only win by denying its fellow citizens their most essential right.

A recent poll found that 67% of voters back H.R. 1, almost the exact percentage that passed Proposal 3 in Michigan. That’s a supermajority of the American public, yet a super minority of Republican senators — 41 out of 100 — can make sure the GOP continues to nuke ballot access across the country by filibustering these bills.

But that’s only if Democrats let them.

Racist past and present: End the Senate filibuster so America can move forward

Stacey Abrams has suggested that Democrats kill the filibuster for voting rights legislation,much as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell killed the filibuster to get Republican nominees onto the Supreme Court. Another option is to bring the filibuster back to where it was before the early 1970s, when the senators trying to block a bill had to hold the floor with non-stop “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” talking filibuster. This would force Republicans to defend their attacks on democracy, a highly unpopular position, for days or weeks or months on end. Even President Biden is warming to the idea of reforming today’s perverse version of the filibuster.

It’s the least Democrats can do. H.R. 1 and the John Lewis voting act aren’t just priorities. They are necessities.  

And if Senate Democrats don’t do everything they can to give the entire nation the universal ballot access we now take for granted in Michigan, we won’t be able to say Republicans are stealing elections. We’ll have to say that Senate Democrats handed over our democracy to a party bent on destroying it.    

Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of “The GOTMFV Show” podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP

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