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American democracy entering ‘downward spiral’ without voting rights protections, senator warns

Angus King lambasts Donald Trump’s ‘narrow self-interest’ and continued erosion of trust in elections as senators prepare to vote on another voting rights bill facing GOP opposition

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 20 October 2021 15:06 BST
Senator Angus King warns American democracy hangs in balance with voting rights legislation
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A widespread campaign to undermine voting rights and the electoral process – and Donald Trump’s baseless narrative that fuelled violence in the halls of Congress on 6 January – has obscured the fate of American democracy and left the nation in a constitutional crisis, Senator Angus King warned in a stark address to the US Senate.

In his remarks on 19 October, Senator King urged lawmakers to support voting rights legislation that Republicans have repeatedly blocked, as Democratic senators prepare another vote on a bill – the Freedom to Vote Act – as an antidote to state-level, Republican-led restrictions on ballot access ahead of critical midterm elections and a redistricting cycle that could redraw political boundaries for the next decade.

The Senate is expected to consider the bill on 20 October.

In his remarks, the independent senator from Maine warned against rising autocracy, attempts among GOP lawmakers to consolidate power, and “a downward spiral toward a hollow shell of democracy, where only raw power prevails and its peaceful transfer becomes a distant memory”.

Beyond a “wave of voter suppression legislation sweeping the country”, Senator King lambasted the former president for his persistent lie that nonexistent widespread fraud manipulated election results, igniting a “massive and unprecedented erosion of trust in the electoral system itself, the beating heart of our democracy”.

“Of all the depredations of Donald Trump, this is by far the worst,” he said. “In relentlessly pursuing his narrow self-interest, he has grievously wounded democracy itself. And by the way, I mean ‘narrow self-interest’ quite literally. He doesn’t give the slightest damn about any of us … and will cast any or all of us aside whenever it suits his needs of the moment. Everyone in this room knows this to be true.”

On Monday, President Joe Biden spoke with Democratic Senators Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla, and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Senators King, Amy Klobuchar and Jon Ossoff “about the must-pass priority of legislation to protect Americans’ constitutional rights from the systematic assault that Republicans have been mounting in state legislatures across the country, based on the Big Lie”, according to a statement from the White House

“The administration is continuing to press for voting rights legislation to safeguard our democracy from these historic threats to constitutional freedoms and the integrity of elections through legislation, executive actions, outreach, the bully pulpit, and all other means available,” according to the White House.

But the Freedom to Vote Act is likely to face the same universal opposition from congressional Republicans, while their state-level counterparts wage a coordinated legislative campaign to make it more difficult to vote and consolidate election oversight into the hands of GOP-dominated state legislatures.

The latest Senate measure builds on a framework from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who joined Republican opposition to the For The People Act, which was shot down by a GOP filibuster and rebuffed a second time in a last-ditch attempt during budget debates.

In order to move the latest bill forward, Senate Democrats will need the support of at least 10 Republicans to reach a 60-vote threshold to overcome another filibuster.

“A lot of this will be determined by the attitude and approach of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema,” Senator King told reporters on Tuesday.

Senator King has been skeptical of eliminating the filibuster but has decided “democracy is more important than Senate rule”.

Asked earlier this month how negotiations with Republicans have been going, he told reporters “my sense is not well”.

“I’ve talked to Republicans myself,” he said, adding that he believes he is “not getting very far”.

“The Republican strategy now appears to be … to limit voter participation,” he said. “I don’t think Republicans here are interested in short circuiting what their brothers and sisters are doing across the country.”

At least 19 states have enacted 33 restrictive voting laws, as of September, according to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice.

States also are beginning the once-a-decade redrawing of political maps for the first time since the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act in 1964 without federal oversight to prevent racial discrimination at the polls.

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