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Preserve voting rights, push past filibuster rule

Senate Democrats cannot allow a procedural rule intended to protect the minority party in that chamber take precedent over the fundamental principle of self-rule by way of majority vote.

The will of the majority in the election of the nation's leaders can only be accurately reflected if everyone has fair access to the ballot. It can only be accurately reflected if everyone's vote is fairly counted. Yet in states across America, Republican legislatures have passed laws to hinder that access, to bend and twist congressional district boundaries to assure seats stay safely Republican, and to allow partisans to second guess and even reverse election results.

This is why federal legislation is necessary to protect voting rights, just as it was necessary in the 1960s to prevent southern states from continuing to block Black voters from getting ballot access.

And it is why Democrats cannot allow the Senate's filibuster rule, requiring 60 votes to get legislation passed, to prevent them from fulfilling their campaign promises and passing voting rights protections.

On Tuesday, during a visit to Georgia, President Biden did what he should have done months ago and called for "getting rid of the filibuster" for something as fundamental as protecting the right to vote.

"I'm tired of being quiet," said Biden, suggesting he has tried to work behind the scenes to get the legislation passed. Well, we were tired of you being quiet, too, Mr. President.

Yes, there is a danger in the Democrats using their wafer-thin majority to set aside the filibuster. The Senate is split 50-50, leaving Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. Though the plan is to carve out an exception to the filibuster only for voting rights, Republicans, if they regain power, could use it as an excuse to push past the Senate filibuster whenever they saw fit.

But the issue is so important that Democrats must take the risk. Failing to act could pave the way for the Republicans to benefit from voter suppression and regain the Senate and presidency. The motive behind these red-state initiatives, after all, is to get Republicans elected. The changes may be cloaked in the excuse of preventing voting fraud (close to non-existent), but the cloak is threadbare.

Not only is enacting voting rights protections the morally right course for the Democratic majority, but it would also be the politically popular move. As Biden correctly noted, history — and most of the public — will not judge kindly those who undermined, or failed to protect, democracy.

The Senate should adopt the Freedom to Vote Act. It sets national standards for early voting periods, mail-in voting, and various forms of voter registration, along with provisions improving campaign finance transparency and requiring fair districting. It would prevent partisan interference in vote counting.

The Senate should also pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It seeks to undo the damage caused by the Supreme Court's ill-conceived 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 2013, that gutted many of the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because the conservative justices found them "outdated." The act named for the former congressman and civil rights leader would restore the power of the federal government to oversee state voting laws to prevent discrimination.

The threat to voting rights is real.

Laws passed in Georgia transferred much of the authority to run state elections from the secretary of state and local counties to a state board dominated by conservative Republicans. Several Republican-controlled states have likewise passed laws centralizing election control.

Georgia's changes also included a ban on providing food and water to people waiting in line to vote, an absurdity since approved in other red states. Fewer polling stations and longer lines are more common in poor and minority communities.

In Florida, Republicans approved changes allowing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to stack local election boards with political cronies.

Texas passed a bill putting up new barriers to online voting and constraining local election procedures that aim to make voting more convenient.

And the list goes on.

Family members of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is observed with a national holiday Monday, are urging people not to celebrate his victories until the new efforts to restrict those hard-won rights are confronted. We are sure the great civil rights leader would agree that only when Congress acts will it be time to celebrate.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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