Once held up as an issue of urgent and historic importance, the topic of voting rights has seemingly disappeared from the forefront of Democratic messaging as the midterm election cycle grinds into gear.
Vice President Kamala Harris has held just a handful of events on the issue, of which she was placed in charge last year, over the past several months as she pivots to fights such as the one over abortion rights, according to an analysis of her public schedules by the Los Angeles Times.
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And President Joe Biden seldom invokes the topic. His few recent mentions of voting rights came only during Democratic fundraisers, not in speeches, according to Factbase, which tracks presidential remarks.
“There’s a reason why they’re not talking about it,” Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, told the Washington Examiner. “It’s pretty clear voting rights is not going to get through the Senate. So I think that dashed people’s expectations.”
The Senate failed in January to advance voting rights legislation that would override state laws covering elections. Even some centrist Democrats expressed skepticism about the scope of the bill, and a related effort to end the filibuster in order to pass the legislation also fell short.
Democrats pointed to election reforms in Georgia and Texas, in particular, as the justification for a voting rights push that Democrats held up, at one point last year, as their top priority.
When congressional Democrats abandoned monthslong negotiations over their massive social and climate spending bill in December, they claimed to have done so in order to take up the more important fight for voting rights, which had at that time already failed on Capitol Hill.
Voter turnout in the Georgia and Texas primaries this spring has defied the narrative of suppression that Democrats attempted to craft over the past year, however.
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was quick to highlight the discrepancy Tuesday between what Democrats warned would happen and what has actually unfolded so far.
“It was never true. It was just to push their preexisting policy agenda,” McConnell said. “The fake hysteria was just a pretext to push a sweeping national takeover of election laws that Democrats had already had on the shelf for a number of years.”
Democrats pushed back Tuesday, arguing the record turnout in Georgia did not invalidate their concerns about the voting laws.
“It’s trying to restrict Democratic constituencies,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) reportedly said in response to McConnell. “The fact that there may be vigorous activity in a GOP primary doesn’t mean they’re not trying to tilt the playing field.”
Kaine’s claim is contradicted by the Georgia numbers, however. Although more Republicans cast ballots in early primary voting this year than Democrats, the number of Democratic early voters alone surpassed the total number of early primary voters in both 2018 and 2020, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
In Texas, which also passed voting reforms that Democrats framed as an existential threat to democracy, voter turnout in its March primaries exceeded that of the previous six midterm primaries, according to the Texas Tribune.
The results stand in stark contrast to the warnings Biden, Harris, and others issued just several months ago.
In an emotional speech about voting rights in January, Biden characterized the Republican voting reform movement as a product of the same forces that drove the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol. He invoked images of civil rights-era struggles, such as the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, to underscore the significance of the voting rights fight.
And he made dire claims about specific effects of the Peach State voting law.
For example, Biden predicted that Georgia voters would encounter significant obstacles to voting on election day after the passage of the state’s new law.
“Taking away the [voting] options has a predictable effect: longer lines at the polls, lines that can last for hours,” Biden said in January during his major voting rights speech in Atlanta.
On Tuesday, however, voters discovered “short lines and limited problems” at polling places in Georgia, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Biden predicted the Republican law in Georgia would limit early voting, falsely claiming last year that the new rules cut the number of hours polling places would remain open for in-person early voting.
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“Among the outrageous parts of this new state law, it ends voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over,” Biden said in a March 2021 statement.
Early in-person voting soared in Georgia, however.
More than double the number of voters cast ballots in early primary voting this year than in the previous two elections.