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POLITICO - Sinema’s stand and its ripple effect on women’s rights

Some women’s organizations picked up the mantle of voting rights legislation this week when they pulled support for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat who voted with Republicans on Wednesday to reject a change to the filibuster and thus effectively kill the Democrats’ bill expanding voting rights.

“Sen. Sinema’s decision to reject the voices of allies, partners and constituents who believe the importance of voting rights outweighs that of an arcane process means she will find herself standing alone in the next election,” EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler said in a statement.

Women, especially Black and brown women, are among those who would benefit most from the bill, whether it’s from the provision adding an additional two weeks to vote before Election Day or the one that makes Election Day a national holiday. Finding time to get to the polls has long been a challenge for mothers, especially women in the “sandwich generation,” who are caring both for children and the elderly, and for those in low-wage jobs who can’t afford to take time off work, a group dominated by women.

“There’s a ripple effect when women have less access to the ballot. It means there are fewer women who get out to vote. That’s the bottom line,” Virginia Kase Solomón, CEO of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, told Women Rule.

She said women’s limited access to the ballot is exacerbated by gerrymandering, which reduces political power among minorities and particularly affects Black women, the Democratic Party’s most powerful voting block. “The majority of the population — women — is disproportionately impacted time and time again,” Solomón added.

Before senators voted Wednesday evening, EMILY’s List, a political action committee that works to elect pro-choice women, announced it wouldn’t support Sinema in future elections if she didn’t back down on the filibuster. NARAL, the abortion rights organization, also threatened to withdraw support from candidates who wouldn’t adopt the rule change — a decision that will affect Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, too. And a group of big dollar Democratic donors who have given money to Sinema in the past threatened to fund a primary opponent and demanded she return their contributions.

Sinema and Manchin refused to budge — which some saw as a direct betrayal of women.

“Some elected officials have taken this role on as if they are hired to be an individual and legislate their individual ideas,” LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told Women Rule. “They were hired to represent constituents and they’ve moved far away from that.”

Speaking of Sinema specifically, Brown said, “If she no longer represents the issues of women, she should no longer be in that role.” For her part, Sinema said that while she supported the legislation, she couldn’t support waiving the filibuster for this bill.

Only a “major structural change” to the electoral system can bring about greater representation at the polls for women overall, says Brown.

It’s not a new idea.

Former Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has been advocating for expanding voting rights much of her life, having picked up the mantle from her father, the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. “He thought it was the most important Civil Rights action that you could pass,” Townsend said in an interview.

“We would sit around the kitchen table every night and go around and talk about current events. And my mom would have us talk about it when she ran the carpool,” recalled Townsend. “The question of the filibuster was a topic of discussion. [It] was used by southern senators back then to get the Voting Rights Act killed.”

Townsend says women’s roles in holding communities together make it necessary for them to get to the polls. “Women are the people who live longer, who work in more low paying jobs, who aren’t paid as much as men. Women raise and bear children, and if we’re going to have healthy families and healthy communities, we need to have those voices heard.”

She sees this week’s vote as a setback but not the end of the debate.

“There are issues that don’t go away. This is one of them,” Townsend says. “It’s about power and there will always be a struggle for power. No one gives it up easily.”