Just before voting June 22 to filibuster the new federal voting rights bill, the “For The People Act,” Sen. Susan Collins made a surprising statement.

The bill, she said “would take away the rights of people in each of the 50 states to determine which election rules work best for their citizens.”

Surprising because — coming from a Maine senator, long cast as a New England moderate Republican — she well knows how “state’s rights” has functioned throughout our history.

This constitutional theory was first used to keep brown and Black people enslaved. After the Civil War, it was used to suppress their civil and political rights, down to the present; it was the entire legal basis of segregation.

Like other Collins statements since Trumpists captured the Republican Party, her debating point was both plausible and deeply disingenuous.

She is correct that, in its current form, “For the People” would constitute federal overreach. A bill put together as a campaign document in 2019 by House Democrats was, unfortunately, sent over again with Democrats now in control of House, Senate and the presidency; it needs work.


Yet why not debate it? That’s where Collins took the easy way out.

As she also knows, her party is committed to the Big Lie — the contention that Donald Trump actually won an election he indisputably lost. So overawed are most Republicans that they can only acknowledge Trump’s loss in certain company.

Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, demonstrated this perfectly on May 12 when, after removing Liz Cheney from leadership for too loudly contesting Trump’s claims, he walked over to the White House for his first meeting with President Biden.

“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election,” he said there. “We’re sitting here with the president today.” With that statement, McCarthy’s own credibility forever disappeared.

Collins hasn’t made the mistake of expecting cognitive dissonance to work, but her claim that states can implicitly be trusted to protect the right to vote is equally dubious.

She doesn’t acknowledge that state legislatures where Trump lost but Republicans remain in control — Georgia, especially — are restricting minority voting. The U.S. Department of Justice is now suing under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.


What happened is simple: Republicans endorsed the false claim Trump won, undermining confidence among GOP voters, then passed unnecessary laws to make voting “secure” by making it harder.

If only Georgia hadn’t criminalized offering water bottles to voters standing in long lines, most often in minority precincts of Atlanta. Voters in wealthy suburban towns, of course, rarely wait more than a few minutes.

By basing a patchwork of new restrictions on false claims of fraud, Republican legislatures have offered a direct challenge to Congress that cannot be ignored.

The headlines got it wrong in concluding “For the People” is dead. The significant thing on June 22 was that perpetual swing senator Joe Manchin voted to proceed; this means Manchin is on board for a rewrite of the original bill.

The object should be creating minimum standards states must meet, something Congress has done before, such as the “motor-voter” law for registration access.

One Republican aim — better identification — should be included. There’s no reason any voter who lacks ID can’t be supplied with one, free. This would increase confidence in results, and make life easier for poll workers.


Other goals may be elusive, at least for 2022.

Maine elections produce high turnout and nearly zero allegations of fraud. Its use of Election Day registration is admirable.

Unfortunately, same-day registration is used only in 20 ideologically diverse states — including Wyoming and Utah — but none with large cities and a voting-day crush.

So too with voluntary public campaign financing — all the U.S. Supreme Court now permits. Only Maine and Arizona have “Clean Election” laws.

Partisan gerrymandering is a problem — and has been since the 1790s, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry invented it — but independent commissions are not the only, or even necessarily the best answer. Maine’s constitutional requirement for two-thirds legislative majorities, or court review if not achieved, has stood the test of time.

“For the People” is a half-dozen bills, not one. Better to focus on egregious barriers to access — Texas’s closing of registration 30 days before elections, for instance. And yes, water bottle criminalization.

If a consensus emerges, and Republicans still filibuster, well, there’s something that can be done. Fortunately, it’s a rule, not a law, subject to change at any time.

As President Biden said, voting is the closest thing we have to “a sacred right” in our democratic system. Those who would needlessly limit it should, appropriately, have to answer at the ballot box.

Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, commentator, reporter and author since 1984. His new book is “First Franco: Albert Beliveau in Law, Politics and Love.” Visit his website, douglasrooks.weebly.com or email: [email protected]

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