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Opinion | The Year America Lost Its Democracy

Yet that is not the case: While Republicans have put the undermining of democracy at the top of their political agenda, Democrats appear to have put voting rights at the bottom of theirs.

“I regard this as the great political clash of our time,” said Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at N.Y.U. School of Law, a policy institute that focuses on democracy and political reform. “On the one hand you have states rushing to restrict the vote or change who counts the vote. On the other hand, you have Congress, which has the power to stop it cold, legally and constitutionally.” The important question, Waldman said, is whether the Democrats have the political will to stop it.

“So far, the answer would seem to be, not yet,” he said.

President Biden offered a strong defense of voting rights in a speech in July. He called Republican efforts to put partisan officials in charge of election results “the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history.” He called passing strong federal election rules “a national imperative.”

And then, crickets. Biden has said little in public since then about the issue. The Freedom to Vote Act, the Democrats’ comprehensive proposal to protect voting rights and undo Republican anti-democratic efforts, is stalled in the Senate. In their letter, the democracy scholars called on Democrats to suspend the filibuster in order to pass the bill, but that seems increasingly unlikely — Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have repeatedly said they oppose that idea.

If Democrats fail to uphold the integrity of our elections, what then? I fear total loss. Not for the party, but for the country. If Republicans prevail, America will become one of those faraway, seemingly lawless places where every election is in doubt and no part of our political culture remains above the partisan fray.

“It’s like the Titanic,” said Pippa Norris, a political scientist at Harvard who was a signatory of the letter urging passage of the Freedom to Vote Act. “We know there’s an iceberg out there. We’re looking at it. It’s in our faces and it’s getting closer.”

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