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Editorial: Biden's quest for voting protections must call Democratic holdouts to task

Editorial: Biden's quest for voting protections must call Democratic holdouts to task

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Joe Biden

President Joe Biden will speak to the nation from Atlanta on Tuesday to make the case for federal vote-protection legislation.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden travels to Georgia Tuesday to make the case for urgent federal voting rights legislation. The stakes are huge, and he must clearly articulate them — not just to America but specifically to recalcitrant Senate Democrats who still don’t seem to get it.

A year after the Jan. 6 insurrection, former President Donald Trump’s big lie of mass voter fraud that started it all has grown into an article of faith in the GOP. This demonstrable falsehood is being used in more than a dozen states to justify laws that hamper voting by urban residents (read, Democrats), while making it easier for Republican politicians to circumvent election officials.

Trump’s attempts to get states like Georgia to overturn their own elections only failed because of the independence of those officials — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, for example, a Republican who stood fast against Trump’s demand that he “find” enough votes to wrench the state from Biden.

Georgia’s Republican legislators subsequently rewrote the state’s election law to remove Raffensperger’s control over elections, while creating a pathway for that state’s legislature to take over county election boards if lawmakers don’t like election outcomes. Having watched the failure of brute force to overturn an election, they and other red-state leaders are now intent on giving themselves the power to do it in the future via state laws.

The federal Freedom to Vote Act would prevent states from pulling stunts like this. It would provide guarantees of voting access while making it more difficult for state politicians to remove local election administrators for partisan reasons. It would also enhance protections against post-election tampering with election results and expand the types of records required to be preserved after federal elections.

The justification for this law couldn’t be more clear. But with Democrats holding a razor-thin majority in the Senate — and with Republicans empowered beyond their numbers by that counter-majoritarian anachronism known as the filibuster — the bill is going nowhere without some fundamental shift in the political dynamics. Creating that shift should be Biden’s overriding goal in Tuesday’s speech.

The clearest path would be to carve out an exception to the filibuster for election legislation, something that has been done before on other topics — by both parties. But moderate Democrats led by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are standing in the way. Manchin’s hopes for a bipartisan agreement are misplaced because the GOP is not going to help protect elections from its own deliberate campaign to undermine them.

Biden showed in last week’s speech commemorating the insurrection anniversary that he is capable of taking off the gloves and forcefully confronting those who would threaten America’s democracy. That pugilistic instinct should come into play again on Tuesday — and he should not pull punches against even fellow Democrats who are, if unintentionally, enabling this dire threat.

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