January 13, 2022

Reform the Filibuster Now. Protect Voting Rights.

Russ Feingold President

Russ Feingold
ACS President Russ Feingold

Everywhere you turn these days, whether it’s cable news, Twitter, or a casual conversation with a friend, one topic seems to overshadow all others – the fate of democracy in our country. I’m no different. This is what keeps me up at night. We are living through America’s moment of truth, and the outcome is not at all certain.

The possibility that we will succumb to autocracy is palpable. The road to achieving a genuinely multiracial democracy is a steep one, and at times it feels insurmountable. Here is what I do know for certain: the fate of voting rights is one of the most pressing litmus tests of this moment of truth for our country.

With the blessing of the Supreme Court, we are witnessing a concerted assault on the voting rights of people of color that is antithetical to democracy. For most of American history, voting was a segregated act. There are state legislatures seemingly intent on making it so once again by passing laws laser focused on suppressing people of color’s access to the ballot.

Lindsay Langholz, ACS Director of Policy and Program, spoke with Michael Li and Elizabeth Howard of the Brennan Center for Justice on this week’s Broken Law podcast episode about this concerted attempt to influence the outcome of the 2022 midterms before a single vote has been cast. They discuss gerrymandering, the packing of election offices, and voter suppression laws, asking the overarching question, are we in an electoral crisis? Michael and Elizabeth don’t hesitate in their response. The answer is yes, and we’ve been in crisis for a while.

So what do we do about it? To counter these anti-democratic laws and to respond to the broader challenge about the fate of our constitutional democracy requires a multi-faceted approach. In many states, we’re seeing lawsuits filed over egregious voter suppression laws. We’re starting to see lawsuits similarly filed over blatantly gerrymandered maps. Litigation is necessary. At the same time, we must realize that the Supreme Court has done everything it can to preempt litigation by okaying voter suppression laws and blessing partisan gerrymandering.

In addition to litigation, we need federal legislation to rectify the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act and to counter the wide-ranging anti-democratic laws being passed by some states. And to its credit, Congress is working on this. Standing in the way right now are Senate rules. You’ve heard me say this before, but it bears repeating, voting rights are more important than parliamentary procedure. This should be self-evident, but apparently, it’s not.

I spent 18 years in the Senate. I tend to be protective of Senate rules. I make an exception here. It is preposterous to think that we will look back at this time and say, “Well, we lost voting rights, but hey, we preserved the filibuster.” The Senate needs to reform the filibuster to enable legislation necessary for the preservation of our democracy.

As we prepare to honor Martin Luther King Day on Monday, it is hard to envision a more appropriate topic on which to focus our efforts than voting rights, the right from which all other civil rights stem. As King himself said, “The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.”

The only path to achieving a genuinely multiracial democracy in this country is through the robust protection of voting rights. We will go to the polls later this year. It is imperative that our elections be determined not by who is denied access to the polls, not by gerrymandering or election disinformation, but by the people exercising their constitutional right to vote.

Now is the time for action. Reform the filibuster. Protect voting rights.