During the day on Wednesday, a parade of Senate Democrats gave impassioned speeches on the Senate floor to highlight the need for the legislation to counter GOP-led moves to restrict voting in a number of states.
The vote, 49-51, was short of the 60 necessary under filibuster rules to end debate and move the bills forward. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) switched his vote at the last minute, a procedural maneuver so that the legislation could be brought up again.
Schumer next plans to schedule a vote to change the rules of the filibuster so that the legislation could move forward with a simple majority, rather than a 60-vote threshold. But Democrats don’t have enough votes to make such a move, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) opposing the changes and all Republicans likely against it.
In her remarks to the Senate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) cited the rollback of same-day voter registration in Montana and voting restrictions passed in Georgia.
“For every one of these laws passed, in 19 states, it has been by a simple majority,” she said.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) referred to the legislation as an extension of the work of Martin Luther King, who faced a flank of state troopers as he led a voting rights protest across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL, 1965. “I still pray that we will cross that bridge, but if not tonight we will come back again and again and again,” Warnock said.
But Republicans are united in their opposition to the legislation. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) argued that the law would be a “federal takeover” of state laws, and that it would prohibit measures that are popular, like requiring voter ID for mail-in ballots.
Yet the alarm expressed by many Democrats is that state legislation followed former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) argued that what is happening is Trump is trying to place his allies in key state offices to supervise vote counts.
“The plan is to install Donald Trump as president whether or not he wins the election,” he said.
Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said that “what we have not is not a filibuster…it is a second cousin once removed of a filibuster.” He said that the “talking” filibuster has given way to one that is much easier for lawmakers to block legislation.
The bills under consideration are:
The Freedom to Vote Act: The more sweeping of the two bills would establish early vote requirements and vote-by-mail standards; protect local election officials from removal for political reasons; ban gerrymandering; create automatic voter registration standards; increase campaign finance disclosure; and mandate post election audits. It also would make Election Day a national holiday and would limit polling place lines to no more than 30 minutes, among other changes.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: The legislation would require that states get clearance from the federal government to certain changes to their voting laws, essentially restoring a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A state would be subject to “pre-clearance” for 10 years if: there were 15 or more voting rights violations in the state during the previous 25 years; 10 or more violations occurred during the previous 25 years, with at least at one committed by the state itself; or three or more violations in previous 25 years and the state administers the elections. The bill also would set factors that courts must consider when hearing challenges to a state or locality’s voting practices.