US President Joe Biden announced that reforming the electoral law is one of the most important goals of his presidency. Problem: In the Senate, he also needs the support of some Republicans — and they are adamantly opposed. To break the resistance, Biden and many Democrats want to change the voting rules. A delicate task, explains SRF correspondent Matthias Kundig.
USA- Korrespondent, SRF
Matthias Kundig has been reporting from Miami for the USA, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean since Fall 2018. Prior to that he was a producer for “Echo der Zeit” and a special correspondent in Egypt. Kundig studied history and political science at the University of Bern.
SRF News: On actual electoral reform: What’s the problem when different states have different electoral laws?
Matthias Kundig: This means that in some places it’s hard to vote at all, especially for minorities like blacks and indigenous people, but also for the lower social classes. Because Election Day in the United States is always constitutionally a Tuesday, that is, a business day. For many who work on an hourly wage, this is a major hurdle. Because only in some liberal states could people vote by mail or cast their ballots in earlier days. In some conservative states, a special permit must first be obtained and a doctor’s certificate or confirmation from an employer is required.
So there are countries that have significant obstacles that prevent people from exercising their basic democratic right. In Republican-led states, these hurdles have increased last year.
Biden would like to present these national standards
For example, postal voting or early voting should be possible everywhere. It should also be easier to register in the elections in the first place. In addition, it is no longer possible for any party to draw constituencies so that it has a secure seat there. The so-called “districting” will be abolished and in future independent commissions will determine the electoral districts. Finally, states must submit changes to their electoral laws to the national parliament to ensure that new regulations do not harm certain groups of voters
The project has been stuck in the Senate for months, where Republicans have a blocking minority. With the so-called disruption, they prevent any discussion of electoral law reform at all. What is the idea behind this disruption?
The original goal was to ensure that the bills were widely supported and that the majority party could not simply ignore the opposition’s concerns. This worked for decades, when there was still a willingness to work together in the US Congress and moderates in both parties were more important. For a long time, the disable tool was rarely used.
But in the past twenty years, the polarization has sharply increased, the obligatory factions have become more important and the moderates have lost weight. This is why both parties—when in the role of opposition—continually block every project of the majority party with procrastination, or nip it in its bud. As a result, Congress is hardly able to address urgent reform projects at all. So there is a huge deadlock in Congress.
Can Democrats now cancel or suspend this stall for election law reform?
They can, because it only takes a simple 51-vote majority to change the rules in the Senate — eg to stipulate that the disruption does not apply to electoral reforms. But for now, two Democrats are blocking any changes to the disruption rules: Joe Manchin and Kirsten Senema. They warn against breaking taboos and fear that the rule of exception will inevitably lead to the complete abolition of procrastination.
Republicans Warn of ‘Nuclear Winter’
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warns in extreme words against easing or eliminating disruption: Democrats will “open the door to hell” and Senate “nuclear winter” is threatening. Specifically, McConnell threatens that Republicans will effectively paralyze parliamentary processes by all means at their disposal, such as countless additional procedural votes or endless additional motions. “But at the moment it doesn’t look like there will be any change in the disruption rules any time soon,” Kondig concludes. “Because the Democrats lack the votes to change the rule.”
This would allow Democrats to push all of their plans by a simple majority – but once Republicans gain a majority again, they can repeal all of these laws again immediately. This leads to instability and legal uncertainty.
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