The optimistic view is that Democrats have hardly begun trying to attract Republican support for a voting bill, and that the field is wide open for further negotiations that might result in at least 10 Republicans agreeing to new, filibuster-proof legislation. In a recent compromise proposal, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) floated a national voter ID standard, a long-sought GOP goal, and other Democrats indicated they were willing to concede on that issue if it enabled them to pass a broader package. Democrats could seek to find other policies on which they would be willing to compromise.
In return, Democrats could press standards that no one committed to democracy could legitimately oppose. These include simple measures to promote access to the ballot box, such as requiring early voting, making Election Day a holiday or allowing people to cast provisional ballots if they show up to the wrong precinct. Democrats could also pursue important reforms that they did not put into the For the People Act, but that the 2020 election showed were necessary. These include rewriting the archaic Electoral Count Act to ensure that Congress may not overturn free and fair voting results. Another idea is to erect safeguards against meddling in election results by state officials or state legislatures.
Yet Republicans on Tuesday did not simply reject the For the People Act — they unanimously nixed the idea of even bringing it up for debate. Mr. Manchin had already proposed his compromise plan, raising the prospect that Republicans could help shape the legislation on the Senate floor, and they rejected his invitation. They did not argue that early voting or giving workers a day off on Election Day were bad ideas, but that it is not the federal government’s role to set election rules. This contradicts the Constitution, which gives Congress express power to establish election standards. But it is also a convenient pretext on which to reject literally any pro-voting reform, no matter how seemingly uncontroversial, leaving Republican state legislatures free to stack voting procedures and politicize vote counting in search of partisan advantage.
Given that reality, the more likely path to voting reform is reshaping the Senate’s procedural rules so that a recalcitrant minority cannot use the filibuster to stop any and all legislation indefinitely. Mr. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have ruled out eliminating the filibuster, but there are many reforms short of abolition that would improve the Senate. The filibuster, once a rare blocking maneuver, has become a tool of unrelenting obstruction. With the future health of the nation’s democracy at stake, Democrats cannot simply give up and move on.