Kyrsten Sinema Just Killed the Democrats’ Last, Best Chance to Protect Voting Rights

Even as Republicans are attacking voting rights in her home state.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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On the Senate floor on Thursday, just hours before President Joe Biden was set to meet with Senate Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema made clear her opposition to changing the Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation, effectively killing the Democrats’ last, best chance to protect American democracy.

“There’s no need for me to restate my longstanding support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation,” Sinema said. “It is the view I continue to hold.”

Sinema is preserving an asymmetry in rules that has allowed Republicans to systematically undermine fair elections over the past year but blocked Democrats from taking any action to stop them. Republican-controlled states, including her home state of Arizona, are passing a wave of new voter suppression laws through simple-majority, party-line votes, but Sinema is maintaining that any effort to protect voting rights in the Senate must have a bipartisan supermajority. She is effectively prioritizing the rights of the GOP minority in the Senate over the protection of minority voters.

“Effort to fix these problems on bare majorities on a party-line basis only exacerbate the root causes that gave way to these state laws in the first place,” Sinema said, ignoring how landmark efforts to protect voting rights, such as the 15th Amendment, were passed on party-line votes. 

Sinema has said in the past that if Democrats reformed the filibuster, when Republicans retook the Senate they would enact sweeping restrictions on voting, such as a national voter ID law or limits on mail voting. But those restrictions on voting are already happening at the state level, most notably in her home state.

Over the past year, Arizona Republicans stripped power from Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, made it harder for voters to receive and return mail ballots, purged voters from a permanent vote-by-mail list, and spread countless lies through a bogus audit that eventually reaffirmed Biden’s victory. Though Sinema has denounced some of these efforts, by supporting the filibuster she’s making it impossible for Dems to reverse them.

This will allow Republicans to pass new voter suppression laws, election subversion measures, and extreme gerrymandered maps with no consequences, effectively letting the GOP rig the midterms and lay the groundwork to stealing the 2024 election.

Sinema faulted Democrats for not reaching out to Republicans on potential solutions for voting rights legislation and rules changes.  “I wish there had been a more serious effort on the part of Democratic Party lines to sit down with the other party and genuinely discuss how to reforge common ground on these issues.”

But the problem isn’t the Democrats’ lack of commitment to bipartisanship; it’s the GOP’s refusal to defend American democracy. Sinema was speaking in a chamber that an authoritarian mob ransacked on January 6, and since that insurrection Republicans have had a single-minded focus on achieving the same ends through other means by systematically taking over the country’s voting system. Sinema, by refusing to support changes to the filibuster, is now giving the anti-democratic party veto power over protecting democracy. 

The bottom line: she is saying it would be divisive and partisan to respond to a divisive and partisan effort to weaken democracy.

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Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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