Kelly Hawes

President Joe Biden describes the protection of voting rights as “the test of our time.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, says the threat is imminent.

“Our backs are against the wall,” she says. “This is the moment. We have no more time. I told the president: We will not be able to litigate our way out of this threat to Black citizenship.”

And then there’s this from Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause.

“Administrative action, litigation and organizing are critical to combat this, but these tactics are not a substitute for congressional action on the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” she said. “As the president ramps up his use of the bully pulpit and engages with senators, we urge him to make clear that the Senate minority’s use of the filibuster—a Jim Crow relic, in the words of former President Obama —must never stand in the way of the freedom to vote.”

An editorial in The Dallas Morning News finds it all a bit dramatic.

“Hyperbole,” the headline says, “is drowning the facts.”

The editorial does take issue with Republican claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

“And Gov. Greg Abbott’s insistence that this legislation sit at the top of the state legislative agenda is nothing if not political theater,” it says, “but so is the Democrats’ overreaction to the Republican bills under consideration in Austin.”

Democrats at the national level have called their Texas counterparts heroes for flying to the nation’s capital in an effort to deny Republicans the quorum they need to act on voting legislation, but The Morning News doesn’t buy it.

“The Democrats’ move is not only a tactical mistake but an abdication of their duties,” it says. “We wish they had stayed in Austin and kept fighting for their constituents in the statehouse, where they have already shown they can make a difference. Yet the message that state Democratic House members are sending by denying their chamber a quorum for the rest of the special session is that they’re unwilling to participate in the democratic process if they’re losing.”

Mistake or not, the maneuver is far from unprecedented. It’s the sort of thing both parties have done to head off legislation they found particularly egregious.

It’s not so far removed from the filibuster, the tactic Senate Republicans have employed to block passage of voting reforms at the national level.

The Texas delegation’s leader, State Rep. Chris Turner, acknowledges his caucus is fighting an uphill battle.

“We can’t hold this tide back forever,” he says. “We’re buying some time. We need Congress and all of our federal leaders to use that time wisely.”

Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin put forward what he thought might be a bipartisan proposal last month, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately came out against it. Among other things, McConnell criticized the bill’s redistricting provisions and what he termed an assault on the idea that states, not the federal government, should decide how to run their own elections.

Part of the challenge is defining the problem. Democrats see it as voter suppression. Republicans see it as election security.

So where do we go from here?

Though some have called on Biden and the Democrats to get rid of the filibuster if that’s what it takes to protect voting rights, Karine Jean-Pierre, the deputy White House press secretary, says the president is not ready to take that step.

“The president believes that we have to make the filibuster work the way it used to,” she says.

What that might ultimately mean is that both sides will end up taking their arguments to the voters in next year’s election.

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at kelly.hawes@indianamediagroup.com. Find him on Twitter @Kelly_Hawes.

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