It was sad to see Maine Sen. Susan Collins on the wrong side of history Tuesday as she joined her Republican colleagues in blocking debate on a sweeping voting rights package.

S.1, or the For the People Act, is not a perfect bill, but it at least offered a chance to slow down voter-suppression efforts in Republican-controlled states, where unsubstantiated claims of election fraud are used to make it harder to vote, especially among African Americans, young adults and others who usually vote for Democrats.

Maine’s junior senator, Angus King, an independent, voted to bring the bill to the floor, but the Democrats could not clear the 60-vote hurdle that was needed. “I am deeply saddened by this outcome; voting rights should be America’s foundation, not a partisan fault line,” he said later.

Collins not only voted for the filibuster, but she also made a floor speech that put her firmly on the side of congressional inaction at a time when democracy is under attack.

She began her remarks by saying that she supports voting rights but not this bill. “In fact, S.1 would take away the rights of people in each of the 50 states to determine which election rules work best for their citizens,” Collins said.

But as she knows, the states do not have an unlimited right to decide which election rules they want to follow.

The Constitution puts limits on states that prevent them from excluding adult citizens from voting based on race or gender. And the Constitution explicitly tells Congress to protect those rights from state interference by passing laws.

You don’t expect to hear a “states’ rights” argument in support of voter suppression from a New Englander known as a moderate. It probably provided ideological cover for Republicans in places like Georgia, where lawmakers have actually scaled back access to the polls for some voters.

In her speech, Collins defended the Georgia law, which adjusts the rules on early and absentee voting in ways that may disproportionately affect residents of urban, Democratic-leaning counties. The law also took power away from local election boards and gave it to the Republican-controlled legislature.

Collins compared aspects of the new Georgia law to more-restrictive rules in other states, including President Biden’s home state of Delaware, which she says has fewer early voting days than Georgia. But that’s the wrong comparison.

Georgia’s law should be judged by whether it makes voting harder in 2022 than it was in 2020 for Georgians – especially for Black Georgians. And both Georgia and Delaware – along with every other state – should have to meet universal standards of ballot access, which can only come from Congress.

Collins chose not to support a compromise proposal put forward by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who had already announced that he would vote against the For the People Act as written. That gave him the leverage to propose a less expansive reform package that eliminated all of the elements in the original bill that Collins listed as objections in her speech.

Still, she did not sign on.

Manchin says he will keep looking for a bipartisan solution, but he can’t have heard anything from Collins on Tuesday to give him hope that Republicans are leaving any room for compromise.


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