Nearly 1,000 US political scientists sign letter in support of key voting rights bill

Hundreds urge Senate to protect voting rights amid GOP attacks

John Bowden
Tuesday 22 June 2021 16:30
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A group of nearly 1,000 political scientists from around the country released an open letter on Tuesday affirming their support for the Democrats’ voting rights legislation, and calling on Congress to pass it.

The letter – signed by 975 figures in the political science field including professors, associate professors, researchers and Ph.D candidates at a wide range of US institutions – states that American democracy is in “crisis” amid months of efforts by Republican-controlled state legislatures to restrict early voting, scale back mail-in voting, and prevent poll workers from offering food or water to people in line to vote.

Some notable names on the list include Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia; as well as Laurence Tribe, a legal scholar and professor emeritus at Harvard. The letter calls on Democrats to abandon their support for the filibuster and pass the For The People Act, a landmark piece of voting legislation that would address gerrymandering, mandate early voting for two weeks, and establish automatic voter registration, among other provisions.

“The Republican Party’s attacks on voting rights weaken democracy for all Americans, but they disproportionately burden communities of color, the poor, young people, and less frequent voters. This is by design: the purpose of these laws is to ensure that Republican-leaning voters constitute a majority of votes cast, even if they are a minority of the electorate,” charge the signatories.

The letter goes on to accuse senators who support the filibuster rule which requires a party to get 60 votes to pass legislation of “reckless” support for Senate rules over the health of America’s political system.

“At a time when voting rights are under assault across the country, Congress should not allow any obstacle—including the filibuster—to prevent it from fulfilling this sacred obligation. In the face of grave threats to our democracy, an absolute allegiance to the filibuster in its current form is both short-sighted and reckless,” the letter argues.

Released on Tuesday morning, the letter was drafted by four political scientists at Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Washington. In their press release, the group noted that the signatories include several from Sen Joe Manchin’s state and more than two dozen from Arizona, home to Sen Kyrsten Sinema. The two are seen as the filibuster’s strongest defenders on the Democratic side.

Ms Sinema reiterated her support for the filibuster on Monday, arguing in a Washington Post op-ed that the country would "lose much more than we gain” if “democracy’s guardrails” were removed.

“My support for retaining the 60-vote threshold is not based on the importance of any particular policy. It is based on what is best for our democracy. The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles," wrote the Arizona Democrat.

Observers have questioned whether the For The People act is doomed even if the filibuster is weakened, due to Mr Manchin’s public opposition thus far to elements of the package that he has criticized as overly partisan.

The West Virginia Democrat released a proposal last week outlining elements of the bill he could support, calling it a “compromise” proposal, but it was unclear if the centrist senator actually expected any Republicans, none of whom have shown any interest in his plan, to sign on to such a compromise.

“The For the People Act is popular and has strong bipartisan support among the public,” Charlotte Hill, one of the letter’s draftees, told The Independent in a statement. “No obstacle should stand in the way of protecting all Americans’ right to vote, and Manchin’s colleague should keep pressing the case until he gets on the right side of history.”

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