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As U.S. Senate Republicans again stall voting rights legislation, advocates call for stronger protection

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer criticizes Senate Republicans after votes to debate the Freedom to Vote Act failed.

With opposition from U.S. Senate Republicans, Democrats again failed to meet the 60-votes threshold Wednesday needed to move the landmark “Freedom to Vote Act” along for debate.

The bill would expand voter registration, including automatic voter registration and same-day registration, end partisan congressional redistricting, enhance voting by mail, require at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections, and make Election Day a federal holiday.

Apart from voting rights protection, the legislation also aims to promote election integrity, including strengthening campaign finance rules related to Super PACs, cracking down on disinformation, and establishing duty to report foreign election interference.

Sponsored in September by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, the measure is a compromise bill that scaled back from the For the People Act, which Manchin previously refused to back, citing a lack of bipartisan support.

Manchin has since tried to get Republicans on board with the Freedom to Vote Act. Senate rules allow delay and prolonged debate to prevent votes on a legislation — also known as a filibuster — until proponents of the bill succeed in mounting 60 votes to override the filibuster. With 50 votes in the Senate, Democrats would have needed to win the support of 10 Republicans, but none budged.

On the floor after the vote, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, blamed Senate Republicans for perpetuating former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric of the “Big Lie” alleging fraud in the 2020 elections.“Capitalizing on this malicious lie, his accolades in conservative-controlled legislatures are now passing laws across the country, making it harder for younger, poorer, urban and nonwhite Americans to participate in elections,” he said.

“By preventing the Senate from functioning as it was intended, Republicans in this body are permitting states to criminalize giving food and water to voters at the polls, Republicans are saying it’s okay to limit polling places and voting hours, and shut the door to more expansive vote by mail,” Schumer added.

Experts at the Brennan Center for Justice called the legislation “the most consequential voting rights and anti-corruption bill passed in more than half a century.“

A press release from the Brennan Center noted that 2020 was a successful election year with a record-high voter participation since 1900. However, 71% of white voters cast ballots, as compared to 58% among other voters, according to the press release. “That gap will only get worse under new state-level voter suppression laws and discriminatory gerrymandering that undermines communities of color’s growing political power,” the press release stated.

“The same faction that is trying to pass laws to bolster the Big Lie are the same faction that is trying to block the Freedom to Vote Act,” said Melissa Price Kromm, director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections (pictured at left). “They are the same faction that blocked the Jan 6 investigation, using the same procedures.”

She said North Carolina, like some other states, has seen attacks on voting rights in this legislative session, ranging from proposals to criminalize election administrators for certifying elections “conducted contrary to statutory election law” or soliciting private donations, to a ban on the state Board of Elections and the Attorney General’s Office from settling lawsuits without the participation of legislative leadership. None of the bills has been enacted. These bills show an intent to shift control over election administration from neutral local officials to partisan state actors, she said.

Kromm said, as opposed to leaving the public “barraged by anti-voter bills,” it’s time for legislators to pass voting rights legislation proactively to “protect the guardrails of our democracy.”

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