The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
Kyrsten Sinema may cause her own demise by disenfranchising the very voters who brought her to victory. Sinema is dedicated to maintaining the filibuster, the primary hurdle stopping the Democrats from passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Meanwhile, Republicans are releasing an onslaught of voter restrictions that will disproportionately hurt communities of color. If Sinema allows the filibuster to be maintained, she will continue the Senate rule’s long history of blocking civil rights for people of color.
Sinema argues that the filibuster is a Senate tradition that promotes bipartisanship. In reality, the filibuster has historically been used to block civil rights legislation for Black Americans.
Anti-lynching legislation was killed via the filibuster in 1938. Strom Thurmond wore a catheter on the Senate floor so that he could filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for over 24 hours straight. Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 was filibustered for over 60 days to prevent the end of segregation.
The filibuster was the strongest tool used by Southern senators to maintain Jim Crow.
In the past 15 years, the filibuster has been used to block everything. Civil rights, climate action and common-sense gun legislation have all died by the filibuster. Despite campaigning on fixing dysfunction in Washington, Sinema’s defense of the filibuster protects dysfunction in Washington.
Every one of the issues mentioned disproportionately hurt communities of color, many of whom voted for Sinema. Nearly 86% of Black voters and 67% of Latino voters voted for Sinema in 2018. By contrast, only 44% of White voters supported Sinema in 2018.
Although Black voters are the smallest slice of the Arizona electorate at only 5%, 86% of that slice is 4.3% — almost 2 points larger than Sinema’s 2018 margin of victory.
Meanwhile, Arizona Republicans have become some of the worst offenders of voter suppression. Maricopa County, which is one-third Latino, has closed at least 171 voting locations since 2012. This forces people of color, who are less likely to have personal transportation, to travel large distances to vote.
Arizona Republicans are enacting stricter voter ID requirements to vote by mail in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Nationally, 25% of voting age Black Americans don’t have a government issued ID whereas only 8% of white voting age Americans can say the same.
Arizona Republicans are even in the Supreme Court right now arguing changes to election law that would gut what remains of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Once all of these restrictions are passed in Arizona, Sinema won’t be winning by 2.5%. She’ll be losing to a Republican by 0.2%. Because at the end of the day, that’s the whole point.
Senators are elected to be the advocates of their constituents. The civil rights of people of color are under attack in Arizona. Sinema can reform the filibuster and enact a Voting Rights Act, immigration reform, and many more of the promises she campaigned on.
Or, she can protect a relic of Jim Crow. Sinema’s decision will be the first thing in the minds of Arizonans in 2024. They will remember if she protected their voice in democracy or they will wonder whether she was ever their advocate at all.
Lauren V. Williams is the founder of The Young Vote, a political advocacy organization meant to elevate the voices of young people at the ballot box and in the political sphere.