U.S. Rep. Willard Duncan Vandiver coined Missouri’s motto during an 1899 Philadelphia speech. “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats,” he said, “and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
As a former state senator who still haunts the Capitol, I know how infrequently Missouri is the first state to adopt any policy. In the tradition of Congressman Vandiver, we want other states to “show us” that a policy can work before we embrace it.
But given the present preoccupation of national politicos — can U.S. Senate Democrats find a procedural adjustment enabling them to pass meaningful election reform? — it is, ironically, Missouri with something worth showing the nation: The efficacy of a talking filibuster.
Since January 2021, 19 states have passed 34 laws to: reduce voting days, hours or drop boxes; limit absentee ballot requests; add identification requirements; restrict provisional ballots from incorrect voting places; or criminalize offers of water to voters in line.
In other instances, Republicans have neutered nonpartisan election officials (or specific officials overseeing elections, such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger).
Separately, 15 current Republican Secretary of State candidates — at least five of whom were at the Capitol last January 6 — have suggested that the 2020 election was stolen. Trump has already endorsed several in key swing states like Georgia, Arizona and Michigan.
And of course, President Trump tried to overturn 2020 election results in those states, not just through dozens of failed lawsuits but also by 1) summoning Michigan legislative leaders to the White House to suggest that they refuse certify the state’s presidential election results, 2) pushing the Arizona Senate to commission an elaborate election audit (which ultimately found no fraud) and, most famously, 3) telling Raffensperger that Georgia’s count was “off by hundreds of thousands of votes” and badgering him to “find 11,780 votes,” the precise number Trump needed to win.
In response to the aforementioned new laws, congressional Democrats have filed election reform legislation setting national standards to ease the registration and voting process.
In response to former President Trump’s alarming efforts, Democrats propose reforming the 1887 Electoral Count Act to ensure that a vice president cannot override a state’s election results as Trump exhorted Vice President Mike Pence to do.
Unfortunately for U.S. Senate Democrats, 60 votes are necessary for cloture (the parliamentary move to end debate and call a vote), and so far, only one Republican has announced support for Democratic electoral reform legislation, leaving Democrats nine votes short.
Those accustomed to the Missouri Senate may reply: “Why are you worried about how to end debate when the U.S Senate hasn’t even started debating any of this?”
Great question. The reason the U.S. Senate has yet to start debate on voting rights is that 60 votes are necessary to overcome a filibuster on the motion to proceed with debate.
That’s because U.S. senators do not actually have to filibuster — that is, talk for hours on end, as Missouri senators have long had to do — in the way they once did.
Until 1970, U.S. senators had to actually speak to hold the floor and prevent a vote, so filibusters were rare spectacles reserved for the most polarizing legislation (i.e., civil rights), paralyzing the Senate and grinding the nation’s business to a halt.
Senate leaders tried to solve this by adopting a two-track system allowing bills threatened by filibuster to be temporarily set aside so that others could be debated on the floor.
But the cure proved worse than the disease: Now that anyone could derail a bill by merely threatening a filibuster, it became routine for any minority party member to seamlessly kill bills without consequence.
So what does this have to do with the current voting rights debate?
Despite Democrats’ persistent effort to nuke the filibuster to move legislation with 50 senators plus Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have consistently killed any hope of that happening.
Thus the conundrum: How can you keep the filibuster, which Manchin and Sinema see as a vehicle for compromise, but also pass a voting rights bill whose main components have broad support?
The answer is to adopt Missouri’s talking filibuster.
Presently, all U.S. Senate Republicans have to do to start and maintain a filibuster is draft a one-sentence letter informing leadership of their objection.
That’s insane. Read more