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Is there a way forward to get a voting rights bill passed in the Senate?


OK, Democrats have called voting rules their highest priority but never have had the votes for any version of their bill. So is there some way forward? One opinion on that comes from John Fortier, who is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Welcome to the program, sir.

JOHN FORTIER: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you agree with Democrats that democracy is in danger here?

FORTIER: Well, look, I think we have a very decentralized election system. We run elections in very different ways in all of our 50 states. You know, what I think Democrats have really grabbed onto is that they want some national standards. They want things that are across all 50 states. And traditionally, we've only done that when we've had broader agreement. It's been very hard to do. It's usually compromise legislation, whether it was voting rights in the early days, whether after the 2000 election on overseas balloting. These are things that the parties came together and crafted something. If you want to do something by a party vote, it's very hard to put in national standards, and I think that's what Democrats are really running up against. Yes, there's all the machinations within their caucus as to what they're going to do. But I think the fundamental point is to get something across the nation, a standard that every state is going to have to adopt, you do need more than just a bare majority.

INSKEEP: Granting that difficulty, isn't it getting harder to vote in many states because Republican state legislatures have made it so in a lot of states?

FORTIER: Well, look, there are fundamental disagreements between the parties, and what Democrats would say is making it harder to vote, Republicans would often say improving the integrity of elections. Look, I can't say on every issue that there would be - I would find agreement with either party. But I do think that there is just enough difference out there as to whether states want to run their elections on having lots of voting by mail or not, or be a little more restrictive of the time you can vote early or how you register registration. I think those are important issues, but they're not really fundamental to our democracy in a way that changes in the voting rights were 30, 40 years ago.

INSKEEP: You know, I grant what you're saying, that these are in some ways details that people argue about all the time and change election to election. But there's this broader context, as you know, where some Republicans want to recycle a lie. We interviewed former President Trump on this program last week, and he was pretty plain about it. Let's listen.


INSKEEP: Is it a disadvantage for Republicans to keep talking about the 2020 election in 2022?

DONALD TRUMP: No, I think it's an advantage because otherwise they're going to do it again in '22 and '24.

INSKEEP: He wants people to use his false story as an issue, and these voting laws at the state level reinforce that false story. Why should Democrats think that's OK?

FORTIER: Well, look, I don't think Democrats are at the state level agreeing with the Republican changes. But, you know, those changes are, I think, more along the lines of the typical integrity issues that Republicans have brought up over time. I don't think we should relitigate the last election. I think the election, while close, was clear. But I do think that both parties are fair enough to look ahead and say, we had this election with COVID, all these changes. Do we really want to keep voting by mail? Do we want to move to a system like we had before? I think these changes are more about visions for the party and how they want to run elections rather than relitigating the last election, which I don't think is productive.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about what Congress might conceivably agree on. And Kelsey Snell, in her report, alluded to this. She talked about changes not to the accessibility of voting, where there's disagreement, but what happens after the election because there is this great fear that a state legislature somewhere might just decide to change the election result to what they feel like it should be. Is there a more limited set of federal reforms that could guard against that and get through Congress?

FORTIER: I think there are. There is a more limited set of federal reforms, as well as some state reforms that would really focus on what happens after the November election, how we count the vote, how we recount the vote and then, particularly in Congress and on the federal level, what we do with the so-called Electoral College, keeping Congress's role more limited and showing that they don't really have many grounds to object on and making those thresholds higher, showing that the vice president is more - you know, performs much more of a ceremonial role. I don't think we're ready to - we don't have a bill yet. We don't have agreement between the parties, but I think that's something that both sides could work on. And if the states - each state really looking to improve its process for counting and recounting elections would be helpful.

INSKEEP: In about 10 seconds, do you think that Republicans in Congress would be prepared to deal in good faith on that issue?

FORTIER: I do think so, but I don't think it's going to happen in a very short period of time. I think it's going to take some longer-term effort on their part.

INSKEEP: John Fortier, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, thanks for your insights - really appreciate it.

FORTIER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.