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It’s Absurd that ‘Voting Rights Advocates’ Need to Exist

In a functioning democracy, this would be unheard of.

An election protection worker in Minneapolis.
Lorie Shaull

Democracy is pretty simple: a group of people decide they want to stick together as a country or tribe or group or city and make decisions based on what the majority of members of that group want to do. Each person gets one vote.

People have spent hundreds of years making this more complicated, for various reasons, but the core concept that each citizen of a place should have an equal voice in decision making power is still, in general, the accepted wisdom. People like democracy. It makes them feel like they have control over their lives even if they largely don’t.

Yesterday I was reading an article in The New York Times about “voting rights advocates,” a term that I have read hundreds of times before but for some reason stuck in my head a little bit that day. The Times‘ framing of the article is very straightforward and lets you know the sides and stakes of the issue immediately. Here’s the headline and dek:

For Voting Rights Advocates, a ‘Once in a Generation Moment’ Looms
Opposition to restrictive Republican voting laws — and support for a sweeping Democratic bill — fuels a movement like none in decades. But can it succeed?

Politics knowers can read those sentences and go, ah, yes, there is a nationwide GOP campaign to restrict voting access in order to preserve their precarious majorities in many statehouses and prevent red-to-blue Electoral College flips like Georgia in 2020, which the Democrats and “voting rights advocates” are working against because it will help them win elections if more people can vote. That’s what’s going on here.

However while my brain was processing all this it was also saying another very simple thing: “hey what the fuck, man??” You mean there are people in this country whose, like, job is to advocate for people to be able to vote?

And of course there are. This is not a particularly astute revelation or anything but it’s one that maybe we should remind ourselves of every now and then. In the United States there are people whose job it is to try to advocate that more people should be able to vote, largely because there is another large group of people who do not want them to vote. As the Times notes, a new expansion to “voting rights” passed the House earlier this month with only the support of Democrats. The Democratic Party, as we know, is a very flawed institution that often works against the general aims of functioning democracy, but on this one they seem to be on the right side, at least in the sense that “more people voting” is good for them and the country. The Republicans are not. In a functioning state this wouldn’t really even be a question. The government would do everything it could to make sure that every person was able to vote and as many of them as possible did so. In the country that we have here one of the two major political parties actually wants to do the opposite of that.

What the GOP has been doing for many years is trying to find ways to pretend to people that they’re not trying to take away their right to vote. They frame this as an issue of voter fraud, which we saw come to a head with the absurd challenges to Donald Trump’s loss in 2020. Voter fraud isn’t really a thing anymore. There are a little over 255,000,000 people over the age of 18 in the U.S., and even though only about two-thirds of them voted in 2020, that’s still a number that is so large doing individual voter fraud isn’t really a plausible strategy for any national campaign. This isn’t the Boss Tweed days where you could round up a couple dozen drunk guys who were out of work and get them to swap hats a few times and steal a State Senate election by 200 votes or something. If you really, really want to do fraud I guess you can but you’re almost certainly going to get caught, like when the GOP tried it in North Carolina in 2018.

The wildest thing here is that the other party, the one that wins when we have more democracy rather than less, is only halfway interested in changing this. As the Times points out, the Senate filibuster is probably going to doom the new voting rights bill, unless the moderates running the show finally decide to get rid of it.

But after approval of the Democratic bill in the House, the campaign to pass the For the People Act, designated Senate Bill 1, increasingly appears to be on a collision course with the filibuster. The rule requires 60 votes for passage of most legislation in a bitterly divided Senate, meaning that Republicans can kill the voting bill and scores of other liberal priorities despite unified Democratic control of Washington.

To succeed, Democrats will have to convince a handful of moderate holdouts to change the rules, at least for this legislation, with the likelihood that a single defection in their own party would doom their efforts.

So that’s where we’re at. One party actively hates democracy. The other, despite having enormous incentives to do so, is only halfway interested in preserving it.

All of this is to say that I wish things were different. I wish there were a way to reach people who believe that illegal immigrants and dead people and children or whatever are voting for Democrats and stealing elections and make things very clear to them that the party they’re supporting is the one that hates democracy. They hate it because if it worked well they would never win. Joe Biden won the 2020 election by the skin of his teeth, but if you think that was a victory for “democracy” you’re wrong. Democracy wins when we put “voting rights advocates” out of a job.