Advocates press for action in Congress on voting rights, despite grim outlook
A resident waits in line to vote at a polling place in Milwaukee for the April 7, 2020, primary election. Residents waited sometimes more than two hours to vote at this site, one of the few polling places open in the city after most were consolidated due to a shortage of poll workers fearful of contracting COVID-19. (Photo by Scott Olson | Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Activists are ramping up the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to move on his chamber’s version of a voting rights bill, even though there’s no sign there will be enough Republican support to advance it.
Alternatively, they’re pressing for an end to the filibuster, though there’s no indication there would be enough Democratic support for that yet either.
The push comes as Democrats in Congress face tough decisions in the coming days on how to move ahead on a massive budget reconciliation bill, infrastructure legislation, disaster relief, continued spending to avert a government shutdown and help for Afghan refugees.
Schumer, a New York Democrat, has promised the Senate will act to try to move voting rights ahead too as soon as this week, though there’s no vote scheduled yet on the “Freedom to Vote Act” amid the crush of other problems.
Advocates argue that Democrats need to quickly pass the measure because Republican-led states continue to pass restrictive voting laws and are engaged in drawing new congressional and legislative districts, following the release of census numbers.
“We are going to take action to make sure we protect our democracy and fight back against the disease of voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering and election subversion that is metastasizing at the state level,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
The revised voting rights bill, introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, is the product of months-long negotiations with moderate Sen. Joe Manchin III, (D-W.Va.).
Grassroots advocacy groups like the Poor People’s Campaign and RepresentUs have particularly been putting pressure on Manchin and Congress to protect voting rights. If they won’t do that, then they say Democrats must end the filibuster, which means Senate bills need 60 votes to advance. However, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, (D-Ariz.), have publicly said they won’t kill the filibuster.
“Manchin knows that his Republican friends aren’t going to support federal protection of voting rights,” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber with the Poor People’s Campaign, said in a statement.
Barber held a virtual press conference Monday to push Manchin to end the filibuster and criticized his support for adding voter I.D. requirements in the Freedom to Vote Act.
“His cooperation on a bill that would expand the right to vote and protect against voter suppression in the states is important, but it’s a cynical performance of concern about the crisis we face if Manchin isn’t willing to vote with his fellow Democrats to override the Republicans’ interposition of any debate on voting rights through the coward’s filibuster.”
RepresentUs CEO Josh Silver said in a statement that “inaction is not an option.”
“States are already beginning to draw gerrymandered districts and they continue to pass anti-voter laws with little resistance,” he said. “Passing this bill means we can finally ban gerrymandering, ensure baseline voter access, and curb the influence of big money in politics.”
Schumer and other Democrats have insisted they are confident that Manchin will be able to secure 10 Republican votes for the voting rights bill.
“This week, my colleague Senator Manchin, who helped craft this legislation and relied on many of the good practices in West Virginia to do so, is making an effort, a good faith effort, to reach to colleagues on the other side of the aisle to win support of the Freedom to Vote Act—and in fact he has been meeting with a number of our Republican colleagues,” Schumer said.
Democrats originally pushed for a sweeping elections and voting rights package, known as the “For the People Act” that passed the House in March, but because Manchin opposed it—and in an evenly divided Senate—Democrats had to rework it and produce an elections bill that Manchin would support.
During a Sunday interview on MSNBC, Klobuchar acknowledged that Democrats needed Manchin to sign onto their new bill.
“These basic federal voting rights make it clear that you can vote in a safe manner, regardless of your zip code,” she said.
If signed into law, the bill would establish a national Elections Day holiday, expand voter registration, create nonpartisan redistricting committees and extend at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections, among other provisions.
Klobuchar added that it’s possible that the 60-vote threshold required by the filibuster might need to be amended in order for the bill to pass the Senate.
“Senator Manchin has signaled an interest in the standing filibuster in the past, which would require a rules change,” she said, referring to a practice also known as the talking filibuster, in which members of the Senate must actually stand and hold the floor to conduct a filibuster. “I’m going to pursue whatever is necessary.”
As of July, Republican-controlled states have passed 30 restrictive voting laws in 18 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
State Republican lawmakers have introduced more than 400 restrictive voting bills in 49 states. However, state Democrats have also pushed back and have passed 54 laws with expansive voting rights provisions in 25 states, according to the Brennan Center.
The flurry of restrictive voting laws passed by state Republicans is in response to the 2020 presidential election, in which former President Donald Trump has repeated the lie that the election was stolen from him. His backers stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
A handful of those same supporters who continue to believe the election was “stolen” returned to D.C. on Sept. 18 to protest the prosecution of the Jan. 6 rioters and the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
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