What Can Biden Do For Voting Rights?
Rebeca Ibarra: It's the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. I'm Rebeca Ibarra host of WNYC's Consider This and a host in the WNYC Newsroom filling in for Brian Lehrer, who is on a well-deserved vacation this week. Coming up on the show today, we have a meditation on the high environmental cost of air conditioning. The latest on COVID risks for the unvaccinated, which of course includes all children under 12. Plus, we'll talk to the likely next Borough President of the Bronx, City Council Member, Vanessa Gibson. To start, yesterday at the birthplace of American Democracy, President Biden delivered a speech on the topic of voting rights.
Taking aim at Trump's so-called Big Lie, which he says is now being used as an excuse to pass restrictive voting laws in conservative majority legislatures across the country. Here's the president yesterday.
President Biden: If you lose, you accept the results, you follow the constitution, you try again, you don't call facts fake, and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you're unhappy. That's not statesmanship.
President Biden: That's not statesmanship. That's selfishness. That's not democracy, it's the denial of the right to vote.
Rebeca Ibarra: That was President Biden yesterday in Philadelphia. Elsewhere in the speech, he implored Congress to pass voter legislation, namely, the For The People Act and The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Though his tone was emphatic, President Biden offered few specifics on how Democrats might pass a voting bill through a narrowly divided Congress and remain silent on the filibuster, which stands in the way of any voting legislation in the Senate. With us now to talk about the president's speech and fights over voting laws playing out across the country is Ari Berman, senior reporter at Mother Jones covering voting rights and author of, Give Us The Ballot, The Modern Struggle For Voting Rights in America.
Ari, welcome back to WNYC.
Ari Berman: Hey, Rebeca. Good to talk to you. Thank you.
Rebeca Ibarra: Ari, you talked to a lawmaker recently who told you that they wish the president would fight for voting rights as hard as has been fighting for infrastructure. Do you think yesterday's speech signals any shift in a priority for the president?
Ari Berman: I think what it did is rhetorically, it emphasized the president's commitment to the issue. President Biden tried to lay out in very stark terms what is happening in this country. He called it a 21st century Jim Crow assault on voting rights. He said the choice was between democracy and a talkracy. It was his most detailed statements to date about the attack on voting rights and there was a real passion behind it. The second part of that is what are you going to do about it? That was the part that disappointed voting rights advocates because they want Joe Biden to engage with how are you going to pass the congressional legislation that you say is a national imperative.
Everyone knows that the filibuster stands in the way of that, but Biden didn't mention the F-word, the filibuster. It seemed like there was this incredible sense of urgency among the president to communicate to the American people the attack on voting rights, but not the same urgency to pass congressional legislation that would stop that attack on voting rights.
Rebeca Ibarra: You wrote recently that quote, "Historically presidents have been pressured into supporting voting rights legislation rather than leading the way." Can you give us some examples and why do you think that's the case?
Ari Berman: The best example is Lyndon Johnson and the Voting Rights Act. Lyndon Johnson was broadly supportive of voting rights when he became president, but he met with Martin Luther King in December 1964. Martin Luther King had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Martin Luther King asked Lyndon Johnson to support a voting rights act in 1965. Lyndon Johnson said, "Listen, I just signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, I have other things I want to do, voting rights is going to have to wait." Martin Luther King went down to Selma, Alabama to lead a months-long effort to register Black voters.
He said, "I'm going to force you to pass the Voting Rights Act. I'm going to create the conditions that you cannot ignore this issue." Then when there was this famous March in Selma, Alabama on March 7th, 1965, Bloody Sunday, when civil rights activists, including the great civil rights leader John Lewis, were brutally beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge. Lyndon Johnson could no longer ignore the issue. What Lyndon Johnson did is once the voting rights became something that you can no longer ignore, he quickly moved legislatively, he introduced the Voting Rights Act, eight days after Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, and made this an issue that Congress had to pass.
It was very clear that after Selma a voting rights act had to pass in 1965. I don't think that Joe Biden feels that same sense of urgency. I think he believes that the attack on voting rights is wrong and shameful, but I think he believes it can be overcome through other means. That's where there's a disagreement between voting rights groups who see congressional legislation as the only solution and the president and his advisors who think they can out-organize or outlitigate this, which is honestly going to be very difficult to do.
Rebeca Ibarra: President Biden called on Congress to pass both the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. As we said and as you said, he didn't offer any specifics on how Congress could actually get there. First, can you just remind listeners the difference between those two bills, and were you surprised at all that he called for passing both?
Ari Berman: No, I wasn't surprised because they're both very important and they do different things. The For The People Act sets national protections for voting rights that apply equally in all states for a federal election. It put in place policies like automatic voter registration and two weeks of early voting and a ban on partisan gerrymandering and more disclosure of dark money for all 50 states for a federal election, so things like congressional elections and presidential elections. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is more narrowly tailored.
It restores the section of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme court gutted in 2013, which is that states with a long history of discrimination would once again have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. That would apply to places like Georgia and Texas that have a long history of discrimination and a more recent history of discrimination, but it would not apply to all 50 states. It's kind of like the carrot and the stick approach. The carrot is The Four For People Act, it puts in place those policies that would make it easier to vote equally all across the country.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is the stick, it would say to those states with the longest histories of discrimination, "You need to approve your voting changes with the federal government again to make sure you don't suppress the votes in the future."
Rebeca Ibarra: Listeners, did you hear President Biden's speech on voting rights yesterday? If so, what did you think? Call in with your thoughts (646)-435-7280. We especially want to hear from you if you live in one of the 17 states that have passed restrictive voting laws these years. The states include Montana, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana. How are you seeing this play out in your own backyard? Do you have any questions for my guest, Ari Berman, senior reporter at Mother Jones and the author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America? The number again to call is (646)-435-7280.
Ari, NPR interviewed vice president Kamala Harris, yesterday and asked her what she thinks the administration can do around voting rights in lieu of congressional action. Here's what she had to say.
Kamala Harris: Well, there's a lot we can do. Clearly, this is an issue that we need to approach from many different angles. For example, there's the work that we are committed to do, which is about putting resources into the people on the ground and the work on the ground, empowering the people because this is truly about the voice of the people, so what does that look like? It includes resources and attention being given to registering people to vote, to educating people about what's at stake and what is actually happening in terms of these threats to their rights. It's about turning out voters.
Rebeca Ibarra: What do you think about that answer? Can door knocking and voter turnout win the day without more comprehensive voter protections?
Ari Berman: It can only accomplish so much because the whole point of voter suppression is to make it harder to register to vote and harder to organize voters and harder to turn out. In some places, yes, you can still do that, in some places, it's going to be more difficult. That's why so many voting rights advocates believe that federal legislation is needed to ensure that these barriers that have been enacted in 2021 will be eliminated so that we have free and fair elections in 2022 and 2024. There's also an element that states have made it easier to throw out votes, to actually overturn elections. That's something that you can't out-organize, that you can't out-register.
There needs to be strong protections in place to prevent something like that happening as well. There was another part of Vice-President Harris' interview, where she seemed more open than the president to potentially doing something on the filibuster. She actually made it seem like they're going to engage more on that because what top Democrats want is for the White House to basically endorse a voting rights exemption to the filibuster. In the same way that Supreme Court nominations only require 51 votes, budget bills only require 51 votes, the argument is being made that legislation to protect voting rights should only require 51 votes because it's so fundamental to democracy.
Also, all of the states that are enacting new restrictions on voting are doing it through a simple majority vote, so why should you be able in Texas to make it harder to vote through a simple majority, but if you want to protect voting rights in the Senate, you need to have a 60-vote supermajority? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to a lot of people.
Rebeca Ibarra: Ari, you're saying that Vice President Harris seemed more willing to talk about the F-word as you said before than President Biden. Why is it that they keep skirting around this word and really potential action?
Ari Berman: Well, Biden doesn't want to get into a fight over Senate rules that he doesn't believe he can win, and that's very clear. The White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that the votes aren't there for changing the filibuster, and so the president is going to try to use his political capital where he believes he can succeed in. On infrastructure right now, which is their really big legislative priority, they can get number one bipartisan support for one part of infrastructure, then they can do the other parts of infrastructure through reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes. They don't have the same luxury on voting rights.
Republicans aren't going to support any sort of bipartisan plan, and at the same time, they can't do it through reconciliation because it's not a budget process. The only way to do it is changing the Senate rules or exempting voting rights legislation from the Senate rules. Now, what voting rights advocates are saying is Biden hasn't actually tried to do that, that maybe it won't succeed. Maybe you can't convince Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema or other Senate Democrats who still support the filibuster to change their position on this, but Biden has to at least try, and he has not tried. Even in his speech, he projected a great sense of urgency about the problem, but not a great sense of urgency about the solution.
As long as Biden doesn't change his position on the filibuster, why would Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema?
Rebeca Ibarra: One could understand the frustration of many voting rights advocates. Let's talk about Georgia. As an alternative to congressional legislation, the president also pointed to the Justice Department's role in his plan to protect voters' rights, and there is a current lawsuit against Georgia for its new voting law. Can you remind us first of the specifics of that case?
Ari Berman: Yes. The lawsuit by the Justice Department alleges that the state of Georgia intentionally discriminated against Black voters by doing things like banning mail ballot drop boxes when they were used in heavily urban areas in Atlanta, by doing things like banning giving out food and water to people waiting in line when there were 11-hour lines in Black neighborhoods in 2020, making it harder to vote by mail through a variety of means when Black voters used mail in higher numbers in Georgia in 2020, and White voters used it in lower numbers. Now, this is going to be a very difficult lawsuit for the Justice Department to win.
It's going to be a hard lawsuit for them to win because they are arguing that Georgia Republicans intentionally discriminated against Black voters, which is very, very difficult to prove. Secondly, now they have to win it before a supreme court that just further weakened the Voting Rights Act, and basically said that if states have a legitimate interest in stopping voter fraud, even if there is no evidence of voter fraud, that will allow them to pass new restrictions on voting. Well, that's exactly what Georgia Republicans are going to argue. They were going to argue that they made a good faith effort to enact what they call election integrity laws, that there was no intention to discriminate against Black voters.
The Justice Department is going to argue otherwise, but it seems very possible that a six to three Supreme Court that just gutted the Voting Rights Act is going to look more kindly on the arguments by Georgia Republicans than the argument of the Biden Justice Department.
Rebeca Ibarra: Let's go to a caller. We have Dan in Harlem with a question for Ari. Dan, are you there?
Dan: Yes, I'm there. Thanks so much for taking my call. I love the discussion. I just had a quick technical question, which is if the federal legislation were ever passed like the For The People Act that you were referring to a couple of minutes ago, what's going to keep the Supreme Court from just turning around and declaring it unconstitutional anyway, and we'd be back to square one? The Supreme Court is pretty clearly six-three against protecting any kind of voting rights, so if Congress passed a very similar law to the ones that they've already declared unconstitutional, why wouldn't Republicans, first of all, just keep getting saved through the next election and then ultimately the Supreme Court would strike it down anyway, again?
Can you just explain to a citizen [chuckles] why that wouldn't happen, you're our expert?
Rebeca Ibarra: Ari, do you have an answer for Dan?
Ari Berman: That is a very good question by Dan that a lot of voting rights advocates are mulling right now. They believe that Congress does have the authority to pass both of these bills, that under the For The People Act, Congress has the power to set the time, place, and manner for federal elections, meaning that they can set the rules for federal elections. When the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, they said that Congress had the power to draft a more updated Voting Rights Act, which is what they were doing. Now, that's not to say that the Supreme Court's not going to try to strike down both of these laws if they pass.
Which, then, is going to beg the question, should we do something about the structure of the court because there are also calls, remember, to expand the Supreme Court after the very sketchy circumstances under which Trump was able to get three supreme court justices, remember. Mitch McConnell blocked Merrick Garland from even receiving a hearing 237 days before the election in 2016 but then confirmed Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, just eight days before the election, so a lot of Democrats are already unhappy about what they view as the undemocratic nature of the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court were to strike down these laws, that would then prompt a bigger conversation about court reform.
I do think that Congress has the authority to do these bills, but also voting rights advocates are still quite concerned about how the Supreme Court might interpret them, even if Congress has that authority.
Rebeca Ibarra: Dan, thank you for calling, and Ari, thank you for your answer. Also, with us for a few minutes at least is Texas State Representative James Talarico. Representative James Talarico, welcome to WNYC.
Representative James Talarico: Hi, Rebeca. It's great to be on.
Rebeca Ibarra: Great to have you on. At the same time as the president's speech yesterday, the speech we were talking about, real live drama was playing out on this issue, namely, that you and your Democratic colleagues from Texas fled the state for Washington, D.C, to prevent State House Republicans from attaining a quorum. This is a temporary way to delay state lawmakers from taking up restrictive voting measures proposed in your state in Texas. How did you and your colleagues come up with a plan, and can it succeed because I think the Senate passed a version of this bill yesterday, right?
Representative James Talarico: That's exactly right. First, I just want to say it's great to be on here with Ari. I have his book on my nightstand back at home in Texas, so it's great to be on here with him. We were given no choice but to leave our beloved home state. We attempted to come to the table with our Republican colleagues and try to make this voter suppression bill less dangerous, less harmful to our constituencies. Every one of our suggestions were rejected by Texas Republicans and that left us with the only option which was breaking quorum. I want to be clear, this is an option of last resort. This is only reserved for the most egregious abuses of power. It's only been used four times in Texas history.
I'll just tell you personally, many of my colleagues are leaving behind children, elderly parents, sick loved ones, they're risking their day jobs, risking their seats in the legislature to do this. This is not something we wanted to do, it was certainly not the first option, but if democracy is at stake, if the voting rights of our constituents are at stake, we're going to do everything in our power to ensure that we are protecting our constituents and protecting their God-given rights.
Rebeca Ibarra: We hear a little background noise. Our producer tells us that you're actually waiting to go into a meeting with Senator Warren.
Representative James Talarico: That's correct.
Rebeca Ibarra: What's planned for that meeting, Representative?
Representative James Talarico: We're meeting with so many lawmakers while we're here. We met yesterday with Vice President Kamala Harris. We also met with leader Schumer, and we are today meeting with Senator Warren, Senator Klobuchar, and also getting our meeting scheduled with Senator Manchin. All of these meetings have been incredibly productive. The support for our cause is certainly present here on Capitol Hill, but what we're hoping to push our federal lawmakers to do is translate that support into tangible action because we're living on borrowed time in Texas and we are running out of time as we speak, as you just mentioned.
Our Republican colleagues in Austin are moving full-steam ahead on this voter suppression bill, and so we need the president to turn his beautiful words yesterday into action, pass the For The People Act, pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act now because our constituents in Texas can't afford to wait any longer.
Rebeca Ibarra: Yesterday, Texas Republican Governor, Greg Abbott said that the state lawmakers who left, you included, will be arrested upon their return. Did that comment surprise you at all, and are you worried? When do you plan to return?
Representative James Talerico: We anticipated that the Texas Department of Public Safety would be deputized to arrest any members who broke quorum, which is why we left the state, and why we intend to stay out of the state of Texas until the special session is over on August 7th. I think not only has the governor threatened to arrest legislators, the governor also just a few weeks ago defunded the entire legislative branch in Texas, a co-equal branch of government which is honestly a strange way to prove that you're not undermining democracy. These are just the latest in a slip toward autocracy that we're seeing in Texas and in state capitals across the country.
Our message here in D.C is that we can't afford to wait. I know that there are politics here on the hill that lawmakers need to consider, but in states like Texas, it's getting very real very fast and we need help and we need help now.
Rebeca Ibarra: I'm going to ask you one question and then I'm going to let, actually, Ari ask a question if he wants.
Representative James Talarico: Sure.
Rebeca Ibarra: Representative, can we go through some of the main provisions in the Texas bill because they're similar to other laws we've seen passed already around the country in 17 states so far. The first thing we're seeing are provisions that would make it harder to vote, restricting absentee ballot balloting and drive-through polling, right? What else are we seeing?
Representative James Talarico: We're seeing an attempt to empower vigilante poll watchers who can literally look over your shoulder while you're voting. We know exactly the type of voters they're going to target. It's going to be Black and brown voters throughout Texas. The last thing we want is a proud boy looking over their shoulder as they attempt to exercise their constitutional rights at the ballot box. We're seeing restrictions on the amount of time for early voting. We're seeing restrictions on how we can distribute mail-in ballots. We're also seeing them shutting down drive-through voting which actually helps a lot of rural communities that typically vote Republican.
I think that's a common theme here is that we're not trying to just protect democratic votes, we are protecting the votes of Democrats, independents, and Republicans. Actually, in Texas in 2020, we saw historic turnout and Republicans did really well at the ballot box. I hope that my Republican colleagues in Texas and across the country realize that when they empower voters, they can succeed too. They can win elections. We need the Republican party to believe in democracy again, otherwise, this entire American experiment may wither on the mind.
Rebeca Ibarra: Drive-through voting was actually a big driver of turnout. Isn't that true?
Representative James Talarico: Absolutely. Some of these new innovative ways of opening up the ballot box to more people were put in place because of the pandemic, but just like every aspect of our lives, the pandemic showed us how things could be better, more convenient. Many of us are no longer going into the office every day, we're working virtually. The same is true with our elections. We saw that 24-hour voting, drive-through voting, all of these things, not only were great during the pandemic, but they were great for working folks and people who needed access to the ballot box and who don't typically have it.
I hope that my Republican colleagues will walk back this voter suppression bill and reject Donald Trump's big lie and decide again to believe in democracy and stand up for our American ideals.
Rebeca Ibarra: Ari, thank you for holding while we talked to Representative. Do you have any questions or comments for him?
Ari Berman: Yes, I would love to talk to him. Representative Talerico, great to talk to you.
Representative James Talarico: Hi, Ari.
Ari Berman: Thank you for reading my book and if you want me to come give a book talk to Texas Democrats, I'd be happy to do it. I wanted to ask you a serious question. What is your message going to be to Senator Manchin or other democratic senators that are wary of changing the Senate rules to pass these voting rights bills?
Representative James Talarico: Ari, to be honest, I don't think it's necessarily the words that we use in the meeting. I think it's our very presence and our example, as I just mentioned to Rebeca, we risked everything to come here. One of my colleagues had to cancel her wedding to be able to be here to protect democracy. If we can make this kind of personal sacrifice which honestly is nothing compared to the sacrifices that brave Americans have made throughout our history to protect the sacred right to vote, but if we can make a sacrifice, then I hope that Senator Manchin and other federal Democrats can make the same sacrifices to be able to protect our precious democracy.
Rebeca Ibarra: We're going to have to leave it there because I believe Representative, you have to go into a meeting.
Representative James Talarico: I'm going through security as we speak. [chuckles]
Rebeca Ibarra: Thank you so much for calling in Texas State Representative James Talerico.
Representative James Talarico: Thank you for having me.
Rebeca Ibarra: Still with us is Ari Berman, senior reporter at Mother Jones covering voting rights and author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, and callers again, if you have any questions on voting rights for Ari, and especially if you live in one of those 17 states that are now passing more restrictive voting laws, call (646)-435-7280, you can also tweet us your comments and questions @BrianLehrer. If we see any good ones, we're going to talk about them on air. Ari, let's talk about those restrictive voting measures in Texas that would make it harder for residents to cast their votes. Could you put them in context with other similar measures being passed across the country?
Ari Berman: Yes. A lot of the things in Texas are being done in other states, things like preventing election officials from sending out mail ballot request forms or increasing access for partisan poll watchers, or making it easier to purge voters from the rolls. I think what distinguishes Texas from other states is it's already so difficult to vote in Texas. This is a state that ranks last in terms of ease of voting according to national studies. This is a state that has no online voter registration, where people under 65 basically can't vote by mail, where you actually have to be deputized in every county every two years to be able to register voters.
It has very different voting laws than a place like Georgia. Georgia, for example, has automatic voter registration. It has no-excuse absentee voting. It has online registration. Texas has none of those things. Even though it's becoming more difficult to vote in Georgia, it's still way easier to vote in Georgia now than it is in Texas currently. Texas is a state that's already extremely difficult to vote in that is going to make it much harder to vote. That's the question that a lot of people are asking is Texas had the highest turnout in 30 years in the last election and Republicans did very well there, so why are they changing the laws?
If they were going to change anything, why not adopt policies like online registration that are so basic that basically, every other state has? That's the worry here is that you're taking a state that is already so hard to vote in and you're just making it that much harder and how many more people are going to have their voices suppressed? This is a state that has 3 million unregistered voters. That's larger than the population of 17 states. If you were just to objectively go down to Texas as a social science experiment and say, "What should we do to make voting easier?" You would change all the laws to expand voting rights. Instead, Texas Republicans are going in the complete opposite direction.
Rebeca Ibarra: Just to get some clarity, you're talking 3 million people who would actually be eligible to vote who are unregistered?
Ari Berman: Exactly. That's just a giant population of voters, and they're disproportionately younger, they're disproportionately Latino, they're disproportionately Black. They are people that if they were registered would more likely to be voting Democrat. Now we don't know, of course, but based on the demographics, they are demographics that would likely favor Democrats over Republicans, which is why I believe Republicans are not trying to make it easier to vote in that state. You have a very strange dynamic in Texas where it's a majority-minority state where minority voters disproportionately favor Democrats, but white Republicans are in control of the entire state.
There's a disconnect between the diversity of the state and who is actually running the state. I think that has made Republicans, they're more desperate to try to hang onto power because they know if new people get registered, if the state continues to change demographically, it's only a matter of time before the politics of the state change as well.
Rebeca Ibarra: We're going to go to a caller. We have Alan in Brooklyn, Alan, thank you for calling into the Brian Lehrer Show.
Alan: Thanks again, you're doing a very good job.
Rebeca Ibarra: Oh, thank you so much. What's your question or comment?
Alan: This suggestion would seem more radical if it weren't for the spate of regressive legislation coming across red state legislatures, and also in the context of the Democrats fleeing the legislature in Texas to avoid the quorum, this is a civil disobedience at the official level suggestion to deal with the underlying problem that even if everyone can vote, some people in large states are getting a fraction of the voting power for Senate or electoral college for president that people in small states do as a matter of normal practice. We've been persuaded that this is okay, even though our country fought the revolution in the name of avoiding taxation without representation.
Well, we have taxation without equal representation. I think it's about time for people to be educated about this with an object lesson, maybe we can have equally courageous governors, controllers, attorneys general in large states that provide the option of their citizens to pay federal taxes into an escrow fund at the state level of these states. They will say it's the treasury, we're holding the entire amount of tax due. From our estate, we're remitting immediately the part of the tax that's proportional to our actual share of voting power for president and Senate nationally.
We're going to hold the balance and pay it out once this issue of unequal taxation and representation is resolved and it'll educate the public in whatever litigation comes out of it.
You may have to have some governors or attorneys general go to jail for a while this thing's being hashed out, but I think it would be just as useful as the Texas plight to educate the public on something that's a really old injustice that people have gotten used to.
Rebeca Ibarra: Alan, thank you for calling on the Brian Lehrer Show. Ari, is that a out-there suggestion, or what are your thoughts on that?
Ari Berman: It's certainly a radical suggestion. I would have to think it over. I'm not sure how well it would go over with the federal government if states decided to pay a different form of tax. I think Alan makes a good point, which is that both the Senate and the electoral college are deeply undemocratic. Right now Democrats actually represent 43 million more people than Republicans in the Senate, but the Senate is split 50-50.
The filibuster just magnifies that because you have a situation where it only takes 41 Republicans to block bills and those 41 Republicans represent just 21% of the country. In fact, 21% of the country essentially has veto power over the US Senate, which I think is deeply undemocratic and unrepresentative. Then, of course, the electoral college is the same thing where Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 7 million votes but came within 45,000 votes in three states from once again being reelected as president after losing the popular vote the first time.
This is a ticking time bomb, and it's very hard to explain to people in other countries, I'm sure you're aware of this Rebeca, how we have a system where you can get fewer votes, but actually win the election, that just seems totally at odds with not only democracy but just life itself. If you were watching the Euro Final or Copa America, the team that won the most goals won the game but that's not how it works in American politics. I do think that we need to have these deeper conversations about structural reform that ultimately, yes, we might be able to defeat some voter suppression laws, we might be able to make it easier to vote, but we're still gonna have these institutions that are deeply undemocratic and that some point or another are going to need to be reformed.
The problem is reforming them is quite difficult because in the case of the electoral college, for example, you would either need a constitutional amendment to change it or you would need enough states to sign on to what's known as the national popular vote compact, 270 votes to sign onto that, and states are short of that. There's not an easy fix to those problems compared to trying to make it easier to vote, for example.
Rebeca Ibarra: Yes. Every presidential election I have to explain the rules again to people back home in Mexico and it always confuses them, but I think we have time for another caller, David from Inglewood. David, thank you for calling on the Brian Lehrer Show.
David: Thank you. You're very polite, but I just wish you would push back and really question your guests much more sharply. I hope you'll give me time because everybody you've had on agrees with this guy, your guest. For example, New York state did not have early voting until two years ago. Where were the liberals protesting about this? For example, Delaware still does not have early voting nor does it have any drop boxes. Where's Joe Biden been for 40 years? I think there's so much hypocrisy on this that it blows your mind. Georgia, for example, has early voting, it has dropped boxes. You talk about Texas, "Well, oh, you can't give people water in line."
Well, in New Jersey, you have to stay a certain number of feet away from where you vote for politicking, for passing out literature, but if you've got drive-through voting, you can have people in the car that's telling people, "Oh, make sure you vote this way." There's no separation there. In terms of-- [crosstalk]
Rebeca Ibarra: David, we're almost out of time. I just want to make sure, do you have a question? Thank you so much for your pushback. Do you have a question for our guest?
David: My question to you and to WNYC is why don't you have a Republican lawmaker on? Somehow, you just have it so convenient, and so there's no pushback. It's like everybody agrees, so where's the intellectual give and take and why doesn't he talk about all these other states that don't have early voting?
Rebeca Ibarra: David, I appreciate your call very much. If you guys go to thetakeaway.org you can actually find an interview with me and a Republican lawmaker from Texas explaining. [chuckles] Ari, any final thoughts for David?
Ari Berman: Yes. What I would say is that New York didn't have a lot of these things, but has been moving in a direction to expand voting rights. That's exactly because liberals and progressives and voting rights advocates have pushed New York state to adopt policies like early voting and election day registration, things like that that other states have had that we haven't had. I'm fully in support of that. I've written and advocated for those policies. I think the difference is that New York state is moving in a direction of expanding voting rights whereas Texas and Georgia are moving in a direction of decreasing voting rights.
A place like Delaware should have early voting. It should have dropboxes, but Delaware also isn't trying to systematically prevent people from voting in the same way that a place like Georgia or a place like Texas is. We didn't hear stories of 11-hour lines in Delaware like we'd saw in Georgia. We didn't hear stories of Trump trying to overturn the election results in Delaware like he did in Georgia. You have to treat each state in terms of its own context. I would love for all 50 states to have equal policies to make it easier to vote. That's exactly what the For The People Act would do, by the way.
It would set federal standards for elections so that every state would have the same right to vote, which I think is critically important. Just because one state isn't making it as easy to vote as possible, doesn't mean that that's an excuse for another state to make it more difficult to vote. I think the question is, is there a good reason to make it harder to vote? If there's no good reason to make it harder to vote, then we should be making it easier to vote everywhere instead.
Rebeca Ibarra: On that note, we're going to have to leave it there. Ari Berman, senior reporter at Mother Jones covering voting rights and author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. Thank you Ari for coming on.
Ari Berman: Thanks so much, Rebeca, great to talk to you.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.