Sometimes we see news stories about the activities of Congress written in Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday style, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Readers (and maybe journalists) might be excused for not connecting dots on complex stories about two main functions of Congress: lawmaking (legislating) and factfinding (investigating).
The twists and turns of legislation have been described as “making sausage.” What was laid out in high school civics class as a straightforward process is anything but, in a Congress with republicans steadfastly voting with an eye to extreme party allegiance instead of their constituents’ broader needs. Senate republicans have wielded the filibuster threat like a blunt object that would warrant prison time for the rest of us.
Here are some dots. The January 6 Insurrection Committee (properly titled the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack) is the easy dot. One might think of it investigating 1) a political attack on the ex-president, 2) honest citizens expressing dissatisfaction with election results, 3) a peaceful romp stoked into violence by a few, 4) a planned spectacle with some attendees prepared for battle, or 5) a calculated incitement of a crowd by the loser of a fair election. Take your pick.
The next dot is the “Voting Rights Bill” – really several collective bills – which is tougher to explain. The Democratic House passed H.R. 1, the “For the People Act of 2021,” of which a large portion is devoted to voting rights. The House also passed H.R. 4, the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021.” Both were forwarded to the Senate for consideration.
The Senate dot on voting rights legislation requires scientist-readers to recall the “cloud model” estimating where an atomic electron might be. The H.R. 1 companion, S. 1 “For the People Act of 2021,” failed in committee and its follow-on bill, S. 2093, is active but blocked by a filibuster threat from republicans. The Senate also has S. 2747, the “Freedom to Vote Act,” active but likewise blocked by a republican filibuster threat. It’s not clear when/if those bills will resurface. Got it?
Voting rights bills, generally, relate to egregious inhibitory election policies and practices (mostly in southern states on the losing end of the American Civil War) targeting voters other than middle class Christian whites. But here is the intersection and connection with the other dot.
The January 6 insurrection was also about voting rights, i.e., translating the votes of individual citizens into the official collective choice of leadership. Insurrection planners and participants attacked the process that has collated the lawful votes of Americans for two centuries, including the peoples’ choice in 2016 for the now ex-president. But in 2020, nationwide voters made a different choice and the losers were furious.
The defeated ex-president attacked the voting result and the process in the press. It is now known his advisors – as early as the day after the election, before official results were known – proposed schemes to overthrow the will of the general public.
His lawyers attacked the voting result and the process in the courts.
His common followers attacked the voting result and process on January 6 using the easiest means available to them after other methods had been unsuccessful. They resorted to violence, attempting to disrupt the time-honored process of certifying the election result. This final step in the voting process is largely beyond the view of most of us non-historian, non-lawyer citizens.
There is one silver lining to this whole protracted debacle. Americans now know more about the entire electoral process than ever since high school civics class. We know informed voters are essential to free and fair elections.
Whatever comes out of the House January 6 Insurrection Committee may expose more skullduggery than we ever imagined about the voting process. It focuses on the downstream (some would say “upstream”) crucial and Constitutional stages in the voting process.
Whatever comes out of the legislative scrum, a “Voting Rights Bill” may focus on neighborhood polling procedures, county officials, secretaries of state, and voting practices.
Together, the Voting Rights Bill and the January 6 Insurrection Committee have companion goals. In concert, they aim to secure the electoral process from disruption by special interests during the entire procedure of ballot collection, counting and reporting, and the Constitutionally prescribed post-election steps to certify the true winner of contests.