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DeConcini & Richtman: Sinema should reconsider filibuster stance to protect seniors' voting rights

Dennis DeConcini is a former U.S. senator from Arizona. Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Older Arizonans who voted safely and securely by mail in the 2020 election may find that it isn’t so easy next time, thanks to restrictive laws enacted by the state Legislature last spring.

The majority in the U.S. Congress rightly perceives those laws as a threat to citizens’ sacred voting rights. They are offering federal legislation, the For the People Act, to supersede state laws like Arizona’s and protect the constitutional rights of seniors and other vulnerable groups. But the bill cannot pass the U.S. Senate as long as Republicans can block it using the filibuster.

A narrow change in the filibuster rules would allow this landmark voting rights legislation to move forward on a simple majority vote. Senator Kyrsten Sinema has not yet supported changes to the rule, without which Congress may not be able to protect our voting rights. That’s why nearly 40 organizations, political advocates and influencers in Arizona and Washington, DC have joined us in asking her to reconsider her position – and protect the rights of the people of this state to cast ballots by mail.

More than any other age group, senior citizens benefit from the ease and comfort of vote-by-mail. Mail voting allows older Arizonans who are immobile, sick, or don’t want to risk being infected by the Delta COVID-19 variant to exercise their constitutional rights safely. Some 40% of voters age 50-64 and 55% of those over age 65 voted by mail in the 2020 elections.

Those who want to restrict that right falsely claim that voting by mail is rife with fraud. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Studies have shown mail-in voting to be consistently free of fraud. An M.I.T. study found that only 0.00006% of 250 million mail-in votes nationwide were fraudulent. Additionally, scholars at Stanford University analyzing more than 20 years’ worth of data in California, Utah and Washington found vote-by-mail did not advantage one political party over another.

Nevertheless, Republicans in the Arizona Legislature bought into the “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election results were illegitimate. In May, state lawmakers enacted legislation to prohibit sending absentee ballots or ballot applications to voters unless requested. The new law also imposes stricter signature requirements for mail ballots.

Arizona’s law is a solution in search of a problem since county election officials recently reported (in July) fewer than 200 cases of potential voter fraud out of more than 3 million ballots cast statewide in the 2020 election.

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Nearly 20 states have enacted laws this year that will make it harder for Americans to vote. The sole purpose of restrictive, new laws is to suppress votes that the majority party in these state legislatures don’t like.

That is undemocratic, un-American, and unacceptable. Voters are supposed to be able to freely choose their elected representatives, and not the other way around.

The federal ‘For the People’ Act would protect all Americans from new state voter suppression laws by setting national mail-in voting standards and guaranteeing no- excuse mail-in voting. It would require states to give every voter the option to vote by mail. These guarantees would assure that seniors – including older Arizonans – could participate in future elections.

Sen. Sinema is always responsive to the needs of Arizona seniors. She has made earnest efforts to achieve bipartisan solutions to policy changes which we commend. We urge her to support modifications to the filibuster rule to allow the Senate to approve the For the People Act on a simple majority vote.

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U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

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