Voting Rights Failed. What’s Next?

by Ann Heitland, Coconino County Democratic Party Chair

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema got their way. The filibuster lived. Voting rights legislation died.

(Senator Sheldon Whitehouse thinks otherwise and it would be nice if Leader Schumer could pull off that plan. But don’t hold your breath. It’s not in our hands and we can’t effectively tell the Senate what to do.)

Voting rights is one of those issues where it is better to fight and lose than not fight at all. If we don’t fight for our fundamental values, why are we here?

It is completely fair to be furious at the GOP’s Democratic enablers and frustrated with Democratic leaders. Thousands of words are being written about what went wrong and who to blame. That’s cathartic but not constructive.

It’s tempting to use this failure as a reason to disengage. But fascism (call it by its name) is rising. I’m not willing to give up on America just yet. I want to look forward and focus on where to channel our energy and anger.

Political Pressure Has Limits. Simple Math Is More Powerful

Following the 2016 election defeat, there was an outpouring of Democratic energy that resulted in a huge increase in participation in our county party, as elsewhere, and the rise of the Indivisible Movement. Indivisible was founded by former Congressional staffers based on their experience that elected officials were influenced by large amounts of constituent calls and emails — even if they didn’t read the messages, they counted how many for and against, and as the numbers piled up, their votes were swayed.

Last night demonstrated the limits of the Indivisible Movement. Over the last months, tremendous pressure was placed on Manchin and Sinema, including threats from individual donors and donor organizations such as Emily’s List and NARAL. The Arizona Democratic Party’s threat of a no-confidence statement (which is now triggered) had no impact. Primary threats failed. There were demonstrations and arrests and lights shined on buildings. None of it worked.

As former Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer wrote overnight:

There are lessons to be learned [from this] about the limits of political leverage. Manchin and Sinema both believe it to be in their political interests to be seen as opposing their own party. Manchin, who represents a state Trump won by 39 points last year, is undoubtedly correct about his political situation. Sinema is likely dead wrong about her politics, but no one is going to convince her otherwise, especially since she doesn’t have to face the voters until 2024.

All of the attention given these two Senators didn’t move them because their calculation was that standing apart from their party strengthened them politically. Changing a politician’s mind about what is in their own political interests is very difficult and in this case, was impossible. Our focus going forward needs to be on changing the math in the Senate. Adding 2 Democrats to the Senate to get to a majority of 52 makes Manchin and Sinema irrelevant. For those seeking revenge on Sinema, making her irrelevant is probably the most hurtful thing to be done. (I’ve taken my own petty, personal revenge this morning by unfollowing both of her accounts on Twitter.)

How do we get to 52 Senators?

For one, we re-elect Mark Kelly. His year-long equivocation on the filibuster finally came to an end the day before the vote and he came down on the right side. Your enthusiasm after that performance may be low but keeping him in the Senate is a necessary prerequisite to getting things done. It’s our job in Arizona to make sure that happens. As an aside, I don’t think it’s our job to give him money – he’s already leading the fundraising race and he’ll continue to get plenty of out-of-state support. Our job is to register voters and get them to the polls — we provide the practical, grassroots work that makes sure those expensive TV commercials don’t just rile up people but actually get them to vote. (We need a bit of money to do that work. Please help.)

Democracy Is Under Attack Outside D.C., Too

But the fight for democracy goes beyond the Senate race. We have to elect a Democrat to the House. We have to fight for a Democratic Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and more. And, we need to assure that fascist candidates do not succeed in our school board and city council races.

In Flagstaff, we already have a friend of Wendy Rogers hauling in Colorado money from Lauren Boebert supporters and Phoenix money from another radical GOP-enabling couple. An unprecedented amount of money is flowing into our city council race to support radicals who have disguised themselves by registering to vote without selecting a party. This money flow is fueled by one of the most radical, racist State Senators in the Arizona Legislature. (If you want to run for City Council, contact me. If you live in our new LD7 and want to run for the legislature, I’m looking for candidates, too.)

In 2022, the governorships of the top six presidential battleground states (PA, NV, MI, WI, GA, AZ) are up and all six races are toss-ups. The Republicans will use those offices to make it harder to vote and less likely that legal votes are counted. When Coconino County Democrats turn out, Arizona elects Democratic governors. Turnout is our job.

Secretaries of State are the top officials in charge of elections in the states. Republicans understand this. The Republican political group that funds secretary of state races raised $33 million last year. The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State raised a whopping $1 million in the first half of last year. There is no way Democrats can overcome that dollar advantage, as reports on candidates’ fundraising demonstrate. But we can get more voters to the polls if we work at it.

Change the focus

All the attention on Sinema and Manchin has given the Senate Republicans something of a pass for blocking the voting rights bills and standing by while state legislatures which are (ironically by mere majority votes) passing bills to make voting harder, subverting elections, and even establishing fascist police forces to go after poll workers and elections officials who the state’s governors don’t like. This has to stop: All 50 Republicans voted to block voting rights. Also, child tax credits, climate action legislation, universal pre-K, free community college, and more. Scream it from the rooftops.

And, talk to people — knock on doors and make phone calls. That’s how we save democracy — by winning elections. It’s hard work, made harder by what just happened. Americans are known for hard work. Get to it.

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Posted in Action Alerts, Latest News, Talking Points.