The Way forward for Voting Rights
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Good Morning. The fight for the right to vote goes to the Supreme Court.
In dozens of states, the Republican Party has responded to Donald Trump’s defeat and sought to change electoral laws, often making voting more difficult.
The Democratic Party is trying to figure out how to respond.
And voting experts fear the result could be the biggest drop in American voting rights since the end of the 19th century rebuilding.
First, some background information: Trump did not start this trend. For more than a decade, Republican politicians, often concerned about their ability to win elections in a diversifying country, have sought to reduce access to elections. But Trump’s defeat and his repeated allegations of electoral fraud (almost all false) have reinvigorated the effort.
Georgia lawmakers are pushing for bills that would make registration and postal voting difficult. Arizona, Pennsylvania, and several other states are also considering new postal voting restrictions. The Brennan Center for Justice, a New York think tank, counted 253 bills in 43 states to tighten voting rules, the Times’s Michael Wines noted.
This reflects the widespread belief among Republican officials that high voter turnout affects their chances of winning the election. You may be wrong: as the Republican Party has become more of a working class, it has attracted many supporters who only vote occasionally.
Still, Republican candidates are likely to benefit from changes that disproportionately affect black and Latin American voters, such as the removal of auto-registration. “The constraints we are seeing will have a greater impact on the traditionally most disadvantaged communities,” said Myrna Pérez, a voting expert at the Brennan Center.
Democrats, along with Republicans and Independents who prefer broader electoral access, have three options to respond. One of those three is on display in the Supreme Court today.
“The last place you wanna be”
The court will hear an Arizona case in which Democratic officials are challenging two state regulations. One demands the disposal of ballot papers that were cast in the wrong district, and another forbids people – such as church leaders or party organizers – from collecting postal ballot papers for submission. The Democrats argue that these provisions particularly affect minority voters and thus violate the voting rights law. (Adam Liptak, the Times Supreme Court reporter, explains this in more detail here.)
The Arizona lawsuit is an example of how attorneys have tried to protect the right to vote over the past few decades: in court. They have won several victories along the way, including a recent North Carolina case.
But they usually lost. The Supreme Court, under Justice John Roberts, has generally ruled against voting proxies, and most court observers expect the judges to uphold Arizona restrictions.
If anything, the judges can use the case to deliver a broader decision advocating other voting restrictions. “I don’t think the real question here is what happens to these particular restrictions,” said my colleague Emily Bazelon, who covers campaigns over electoral laws. “It is the test that the Supreme Court is placing on future challenges to tighter restrictions, more of which will get the wrong way.”
Richard Hasen, an electoral law expert at the University of California at Irvine, told me that he thought the Democrats made a mistake in bringing this case up. “If you’re a voting rights attorney, the last place you want to be right now is the Supreme Court,” Hasen said.
The filibuster versus the right to vote
Aside from the courts, the other two battlefields for voting rights are state governments and Congress.
But state governments are hard to protect today, with Democrats controlling only 15 of them – and none in swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. The biggest problem facing Democrats in many states is the failure to develop a message that resonates not only with college graduates and in large metropolitan areas, but also in working-class and rural areas. Republicans have exacerbated this problem through aggressive hiking, including in Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
The remaining option for voting proxies is Congress – and the Democrats now control both Congress and the White House.
The House of Representatives passed a bill to expand voting rights, and President Biden supports it. This would ensure automatic voter registration and widespread early voting and email voting, among other things. For the bill to stand a chance in the Senate, however, the Democrats would have to be unanimously supported by their 50 Senators, and they would have to scrap or change the filibuster.
The filibuster debate can sometimes seem theoretical. However, the right to vote is one of the tangible options that matters. If the filibuster persists, voting rights in the United States are likely to pull out in the next decade.
Another GOP approach: In Kentucky, Republican lawmakers are working with Democrats to expand access to ballot papers while increasing electoral security, as Joshua Douglas of the University of Kentucky told CNN.
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Penguin Random House, the largest book publisher in the United States, is in the process of buying Simon & Schuster, a deal that would create a mega-publisher responsible for about a third of the books published. However, the deal needs to be approved by the Biden administration – and some writing groups and other organizations are calling on the Justice Department to block it as a violation of antitrust laws.
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