To Secure Voting Rights and Strengthen Democracy, the Senate Must Abolish the Filibuster
September 23, 2021
By Ivan Cazarin
Voters elected a hard-earned—if slim—Democratic majority into the Senate in the 2020 election. However, even with this majority, legislation widely supported by the public is still being suppressed due to the filibuster. Despite unsuccessful attempts to overturn the 2020 election, American democracy still faces a wave of concerted attacks on voting rights, and ultimately, on democratic representation. To fight back against these attacks, the Senate must abolish the filibuster, which impedes widely supported legislative reforms.
In the wake of the 2020 election and then-President Trump’s attempts to overturn the result, Republican governors and state representatives introduced a wave of voting restriction bills at the state level. In 2021, more than 400 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states. These voting restrictions disproportionately harm voters of color, young voters, and voters with disabilities.
Voting systems were already under fire before partisan attempts to undermine elections. The recent series of antidemocratic, racist measures, such as gerrymandering, purging voter rolls, and stricter ID requirements are the latest in a long line of racist attempts at preserving minoritarian rule that date back to the founding of the United States.
Addressing this democratic crisis requires federal action to counter state-level suppression attempts that disenfranchise voters by ensuring stability, equity, and representation for all.
The For the People Act (H.R. 1)—a bill that calls for campaign finance reform and ending gerrymandering while making voting easier and elections more secure— has already passed in the House and is supported by 67 percent of Americans. The bill has bipartisan support amongst voters. Data for Progress reports that 56 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Democrats support its reforms. However, not abolishing the filibuster means the Senate cannot currently pass this crucial piece of voting rights legislation.
Democrats can use their slim majority to abolish the filibuster, which the Senate minority is using to obstruct widely supported legislation that is critical for maintaining our democracy and advancing toward a more equitable political system. The filibuster is often wrongly mythologized as intended by the founders of our country to foster compromise and encourage debate. In reality, the filibuster has instead been used to stonewall civil rights legislation and progressive economic policy. In addition to blocking key legislation to ensure voting rights, it also currently stands in the way of addressing the climate crisis at the scale required to transform our economy, among other progressive priorities. Although Democrats do not have the supermajority required to break the filibuster and bring these bills to a vote, only a simple majority is required to eliminate the filibuster and enable Congress to pass legislation that leads us to a more sustainable, equitable, and democratic country for generations to come.
Acquiring the bipartisan support required to surpass the filibuster in a divided Senate has been an unnecessary challenge to direly needed progress. In order to facilitate the progressive agenda, strengthen our democracy, and produce the sweeping change the people of the United States want and need, the Senate must abolish the filibuster.