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Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Although some centrist Democrats have been vigorously defending the filibuster — namely, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — many other Democrats have been expressing their frustration with it. One of them is former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In an op-ed published by the Las Vegas Sun this week, the Nevada Democrat lays out some reasons why he would like to see Senate Democrats "abolish the filibuster once and for all."

The 81-year-old Reid explains, "An arcane Senate rule, the filibuster imposes a 60-vote threshold on the majority of legislation, and it allows just one senator of the minority party to effectively block any and all progress by simply sending an e-mail indicating their opposition to a bill. Our Framers envisioned the Senate as a deliberative body where the issues of the day could receive thoughtful consideration, and where a simple majority was needed to conduct most business. What we have today is a gridlocked body where there's more obstruction than debate."

Reid adds that as the Framers saw it, "debate was to be encouraged in the Senate." But in 1917, Reid notes, the "filibuster rule as we know it today was introduced" as a "means of cutting off extended and tedious debate."

"Just as he did in the Obama years when I served as majority leader, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has exploited and weaponized the filibuster, turning it into a tool to stifle President Joe Biden's legislative priorities — a platform that won him the White House by more than seven million votes," Reid laments. "The filibuster has become an anti-democratic weapon wielded by the minority to silence the will of the people."

Whether a Democratic bill is addressing climate change, voting rights or reproductive rights, Reid argues, the filibuster is getting in the way of Biden's agenda.

"Just as he did in President Obama's first term with nominations, Mitch McConnell and his fellow far-right Republicans are again making clear that they will stop at nothing to steamroll Democratic priorities — even when it means grinding the Senate's proceedings to a halt," Reid writes. "The sanctity of the Senate is not the filibuster. The sanctity of the Senate — in government as a whole — is the power it holds to better the lives of and protect the rights of the American people. We need to get the Senate working again. It's time Senate Democrats act with the urgency that this moment demands and abolish the filibuster once and for all."

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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