Oct 13, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – “Senate Republicans block Democrats’ election bill” was the headline of the June 22 story in the BBC’s online edition. As we reflect on this development in the highest legislative chamber in America, two questions come to mind. The first is why? And the second is this one, which has relevance for us Guyanese: why are/were these people providing electoral reform guidance for us?
Every Republican senator stayed with the party line, which led to the inevitable 50-50 deadlock, since Democrats were not going to abandon their own bill. There was no hope of proceeding further, since the filibuster rule could not be overcome, and of which more will follow. Regarding the why, we can be sympathetic with objections to absentee voting and mail-in voting, both of which opened the door to much behind the scenes tinkering and manipulating for partisan purposes. The same could be said of automatic voter registration on the basis of possession of a driver’s licence only. That needs to be rethought and revisited with steeper requirements.
We can support 15 days of early voting, but only with the tightest of vigilance and provisions for clear corrective bipartisan action should fraud come into play. This has been a norm (alleged) in Guyana. Campaign financing is always a much-disputed hot button issue, and one that needs serious and honest attention. Not what conveniently gives an upper electoral hand. Again, this is something that plagues Guyana, with questionable private sector money filling the coffers of both major parties, and which neither wish to change.
Passage of the Bill, however, could have also sounded the death knell of the Republican party’s electoral prospects with waves of newly registered and newly engaged minority voters voting. The stakes cannot be higher, with gun control, healthcare, and the environment all under the microscope and due for radical overhaul, and all dear to Republicans. Historically, the Republican party has not been fair with the voting rights of vulnerable minority voters, with Black Americans subjected to terrible oppression for decades. So, our question stands. Why was the heavily Republican influenced IRI engaged, and relied upon, by the current government to assist this nation with electoral reform?
Republicans have not been kind to minority voters, so why these helpers? Voting obstacles, as experienced by African Americans, especially in the Deep South, and in the more broadly rebranded ‘Red States’, have alarmed Democrats and energised Republicans to keep the status quo. Republican-controlled state legislatures have moved aggressively to roll back the clock through voting rights Bills, with restrictive clauses that negatively impact minorities. Restrictive voting Bills that are clearly racially discriminatory. Hence, the question persists and would not let up. Why should Guyana be relying on a somewhat subtle and, at times, openly racist party to help with local electoral reform, where there are wars between minority peoples in major demographic segments?
The Democrats’ For the People Act sought to remove the more nettlesome provisions in current electoral processes. Republicans in the evenly balanced Senate would have none of that. This meshes well with the position of the recently defeated Republican holder of the White House (he was cheated) and his visions (ideas of returning). Both former president and party strategists would like voting rights to be more restrictive, if only to give candidate and party a fighting chance in 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race
With all of this said, it was still a remote, if not a drop dead possibility that the Democrat-sponsored bill could not attract enough Republican votes in the Senate to overcome the 60-vote filibuster. Even two Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona have signalled resistance to the elimination of the filibuster rule, which was termed, “The Biggest obstacle to Biden getting his way” (BBC April 26).
All things considered, we were and remain concerned that Republicans could be so pivotally involved in electoral reform here. When so, doubts arise about the real objectives. When fairness is needed, when integrity must be painted all over the process, and when coloured people are involved, including overseas voters. These have plagued us, and will continue to do so. We alone must fix ourselves to our satisfaction.
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