“A turning point in this nation’s history.” That’s how U.S. President Joe Biden described the upcoming consideration of voting-rights bills in Congress in a speech on Tuesday. “Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadows, justice over injustice?” Biden asked, endorsing a “carve-out” exception to the Senate’s filibuster rules—which require a super-majority of 60 votes to advance most legislation—in order to pass the reform bills into law. But even as the president and other Democratic leaders intensify their advocacy, describing their legislation as a crucial defense against Republican attempts to suppress voting and undermine democracy, key Democratic senators remain opposed to the necessary changes to filibuster rules. Why?

Jessica Huseman is a journalist who covers voting rights and election administration in the U.S. as the editorial director of the nonprofit organization Votebeat. As Huseman sees it, Democrats’ political strategy on these issues has been misguided and sometimes misleading. Republicans did pass state laws in 2021 that restrict voting at the margins, but these measures aren’t likely to yield a massive increase in voter suppression, a significant advantage for their party in future campaigns, or a smoother path to overturning the outcome of elections. Donald Trump and his allies may even be inadvertently depressing Republican voter turnout by pushing misinformation about a stolen election and portraying the election system as fundamentally flawed. Meanwhile, Huseman says, Democrats are failing to counteract a Republican effort that could imperil elections in 2024—the push to elect right-wing extremists as secretaries of state, county clerks, and other local election officials. Huseman believes Democrats have wasted time and effort pushing for federal legislation that isn’t going to pass and wouldn’t do anything to prevent a repeat of the events of January 6, 2021—while longstanding challenges persist with America’s underlying election infrastructure, from its lack of funding and outdated technology to aging machinery and security concerns.

Graham Vyse: Just how much are U.S. voting and election systems in need of repair?

Jessica Huseman: Our infrastructure is absolutely crumbling. There are lots of states using technology that runs on Windows 7. There’s a significant security problem with voter registration, though it’s improved in the last couple of years. All of this has to do with the lack of funding going into elections, which is stunning. There was an insurrection last year, and we’ve still done nothing to shore up security or confidence.

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