Voting Rights Bill - History

Voting Rights Bill - History

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Signing of the Voting Rights Bill

On August 6th, the President Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. The act prohibited states from using poll taxes or literacy tests to limit voter registration for minorities..

The events in Selma focussed the nation's attention on the need to pass a voting rights bill. In his speech deploring the violence in Selma, President Johnson promised that he would submit a voting rights bill to Congress without delay.

On March 15, 1965, Johnson spoke before a joint session of Congress. Many have called the speech, called “American Promise,” his finest. He began his speech with these words: "At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomatox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama." On March 17th, Johnson sent up the voting rights bill to the Congress. It forbade the denial of the right to vote on account of race or color, invalidating any test or device employed to deny the right to vote in any federal state or local election.

On August 6th, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Bill into law


How the U.S. Voting Rights Act was won—and why it’s under fire today

In 1965, this historic civil rights law prohibited discrimination against Black voters. Though it has since been gutted, calls are mounting to renew it.

When Fannie Lou Hamer went to a county clerk’s office in Indianola, Mississippi, to register to vote in 1962, she was told to write an essay about a section of the Mississippi state constitution.

“That was impossible,” she recalled in an oral history recorded by the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Oral History & Cultural Heritage. “I didn't even know what it meant, much less [how] to interpret it.” Hamer was threatened with arrest on her way home—and when she got there, her landlord told her to withdraw her voter registration or get out. “I had to leave the same night,” she said.

Hamer’s experience was typical for Americans of color who attempted to vote in the South during the Jim Crow era, when state laws passed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries enforced segregation and racial discrimination. But three years after Hamer was first blocked at the polls, a landmark federal law prohibited the intimidation that she and other would-be voters experienced during an age of widespread voter suppression. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 enfranchised Americans who had been barred from exercising their constitutional rights for more than a century.

Several years after slavery was abolished in 1865, voting rights for all American men were enshrined in the Constitution. The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, affirmed Black Americans’ citizenship, and the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, forbade denying American citizens the right to vote based on their race.

But the reality was much different for people of color. Southern states erected legal barriers, such as confusing literacy tests and steep poll taxes, to exclude Black voters from exercising their constitutional rights. They regularly purged the voter rolls of Black citizens who had managed to register and held primaries that were only open to white voters. And when women won the right to vote with the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, women of color still faced widespread disenfranchisement. (Women fought for decades to win the right to vote.)

State-sanctioned voter suppression was coupled with intimidation, violence, and social pressure throughout the South. People like Hamer were threatened with the loss of their homes, businesses, and even jobs if they insisted on voting—that is, if they could register at all. And on election day, white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan monitored polling sites to ensure registered Black voters would not vote.

Despite a wave of new voter registrations following the 15th Amendment, the number of Black male voters dwindled as Southern states imposed discriminatory voting laws. In Louisiana, for example, more than 130,000 Black voters registered in 1896, but only 1,342 in total were registered in 1904 more than 128,000 had been stripped from the rolls in the intervening years. Six decades later in 1962, only 5 percent of eligible Black voters in Mississippi had registered to vote. A U.S. Department of Justice report from that year noted 11 majority-Black Southern counties with no Black registered voters.

Civil rights leaders had long recognized that voter rights were pivotal to ensuring equality for all. But it would take years of grassroots organizing, protests, and upheaval to build national momentum for civil rights laws that protected all voters.

In 1964, civil rights efforts culminated in the Freedom Summer, a mass voter registration campaign in Mississippi, the state with the lowest number of Black registered voters. Over 10 weeks, more than 1,500 primarily white volunteers flooded the state to register voters. More than 60,000 Black Mississippians participated in meetings and a mock “Freedom Election” designed to show the power of the Black vote.

They were met by rage and violence. Three workers were murdered by Ku Klux Klan members at the beginning of the project, and throughout the rest of the summer at least 80 people were beaten, 35 shot, six killed, and a thousand arrested. Ultimately, only a few hundred Black people were accepted to the voter rolls. (This civil rights leader feared for his life after trying to cast a vote. It convinced him to join the movement.)

The summer raised national awareness of voter suppression and the ongoing denial of civil rights for Black people, and increased popular support for change. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 took effect in July 1964, prohibiting segregation and discrimination in public places and employment, but it did not provide much protection for voters. Although the act banned unequal application of voter standards, it didn’t eliminate literacy tests or outlaw violence and intimidation at the polls.

In 1965, activists turned their attention to a voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama. They participated in a series of high-profile demonstrations, including marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a former Alabama KKK leader and Confederate officer. During one march, Alabama state troopers and lawmen brutally attacked John Lewis, then the 25-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and other peaceful protesters. Televised footage of what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” outraged and horrified the nation and finally compelled the federal government to act. Ten days later, on March 17, 1965, lawmakers introduced the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to Congress. Lewis went on to become a U.S. Congressman for the state of Georgia, a role in which he served for nearly 34 years as he continued to fight for the rights of all people.

On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed into law the most sweeping voter rights protections the nation had ever seen. The Voting Rights Act abolished literacy tests and established federal oversight and authority over voter registration in areas with histories of voter discrimination—and required those jurisdictions to seek clearance from the federal government before changing voting guidelines.

The law spurred a tidal wave of voter registration. A quarter of a million Black people registered to vote in 1965 alone, and by the decade’s end, the percentage of eligible Black voters who were registered in the South increased from about 35 percent to nearly 65 percent. It was also a victory for all people of color, especially when the law was expanded in 1975 to forbid voting discrimination against people who spoke a language other than English, a step that effectively halted a purge of Latinos from voter rolls in Texas.

The Voting Rights Act was amended five times in the decades that followed, extending its coverage and increasing the government’s authority to determine where federal oversight was needed.

In recent years, though, legal attacks have eroded the federal government’s ability to enforce the law. State legislatures—mainly those controlled by Republicans in states with increased minority turnout, according to a University of Massachusetts Boston analysis—have challenged the Voting Rights Act by passing a wave of new restrictions, including voter ID laws and reduced early voting.

Those states won a key victory in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the act that allowed federal oversight of districts based on their histories of voter discrimination. Shelby County, Alabama claimed the formula used to make that determination was outdated and therefore unconstitutional. The Supreme Court issued a 5-to-4 ruling in Shelby County’s favor, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing that the formula was “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”

Within hours, Texas announced plans to bring a previously barred voter ID law into effect. North Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama soon followed. In 2018, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that at least 23 states from Arkansas to Washington State had enacted “newly restrictive” laws and said that the federal government now “has limited tools to address…potentially discriminatory voting procedures and hardly any tools to prevent voting discrimination before it takes place.” The panel recommended Congress restore voter discrimination protections that existed prior to the 2013 Supreme Court decision.

Defenders of the Voting Rights Act have since pressured Congress to amend the law to include a new formula—one that relies on current data—to determine which districts need to obtain federal clearance before changing their voting laws. In 2019, civil rights leader John Lewis presided over the passage of a bill in the House of Representatives that did just that, though the bill was not taken up by the Republican-led Senate. While calls to action intensified after Lewis’ death in July 2020, the bill would require the support of both houses of Congress.

It’s unclear if legislators will restore the law to its full strength any time soon. But there’s no question that the landmark legislation has made a huge difference for voters nationwide in the last half-century. Of the more than 122 million people who voted in the 2018 midterm elections, a record 25 percent were Black, Asian or Latino—who made up more than 36 percent of the population that year. This percentage of voters had increased from 21.7 percent in 2014. According to the Pew Research Center, that record turnout made the 2018 midterms the most racially and ethnically diverse elections ever held in the United States—thanks in great part to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

McManus: Why voting rights bill will fail, and what Democrats can do about it

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The Democrats’ sprawling voting rights bill, known on Capitol Hill as HR 1, is dead.

Officially, the bill is still clinging to life. But Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the majority party’s stubbornly maverick 50th vote, signed its writ of execution recently, complaining that the bill looked too “partisan” to him. That made HR 1’s demise inevitable even its advocates knew it was unlikely to get 50 votes in its current form — let alone survive a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome.

The problem with HR 1 is that, unpalatable as it may be for other Democrats to admit, Manchin is right. As election law expert and reform advocate Richard L. Hasen of UC Irvine noted, the bill is “a wish list of progressive proposals.”

It includes federally mandated automatic voter registration and minimum standards for absentee voting, good things that most Republicans oppose — ostensibly because they would be federal incursions into an area normally left to the states, but also because they might make it easier for Democrats to win elections.

And the bill doesn’t stop there. It also includes more exotic measures like a public financing system for congressional elections, new ethics rules for the Supreme Court, and campaign finance reforms that Democrats have sought for more than a decade.

HR 1’s collapse comes at a time when electoral democracy is under threat. Republican-controlled state legislatures are still passing new laws to make it harder to vote. So it’s time to stop mourning HR 1, which has always been a long shot, and start thinking about what needs to happen next.

First, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York should take Manchin at his word that he genuinely wants to pass bipartisan voting reforms, and ask him to convene his vaunted negotiating group of 20 Senate centrists to work on them.

Some parts of HR 1 have broader support than others, including minimum early-voting standards and ballot security measures that are eminently worth passing. In public, Schumer and other Democrats haven’t acknowledged that HR 1 can’t pass, but they are already exploring privately whether pieces of it might.

“The issues in HR 1 are still in play,” Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Democracy at New York University told me.

Second, Democrats should expand a second election reform measure, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which Manchin says he supports. The bill would update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of racially discriminatory laws to seek Justice Department approval for new election rules. The Supreme Court effectively gutted the law in 2013, but left room for Congress to pass an improved, updated version.

One problem with the Lewis Act is that it would apply only to new rules that states propose it would not apply to the many voting restrictions that Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing now — 22 new laws this year, with more to come. Those new statutes include the Georgia law that makes it a misdemeanor to give water to voters while they are waiting in line and prohibits early-voting sites from staying open after 7 p.m.

“The [John Lewis] bill could be amended to make it retrospective as well as prospective,” Weiser said — although she noted that negotiating universally applicable standards for reviewing state laws would not be an easy task.

Third, and perhaps most urgent, Congress needs to make it harder for anti-democratic politicians to overturn the results of the next presidential election. That means rewriting the 1877 Electoral Count Act, a once-forgotten but justly maligned statute that President Donald Trump tried to use last year to block the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral vote.

The 1877 law was passed in an attempt to establish rules for Congress to decide the outcome of a presidential election when states fail to report clear or uncontested results — but in its first major test in practice, it proved to be an ungainly mess.

The law allows state legislatures to overrule their own voters in the event of a “failed election,” without defining what a failed election might be.

The 1877 law also allows Congress to contest and potentially discard individual states’ electoral votes through an odd, undemocratic process. That’s what eight GOP senators and 139 Republican House members were doing when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that any of those reforms will attract enough Republican support in the 50-50 Senate to overcome a filibuster. But with democracy at risk, all 100 senators should be required to vote on them — and explain their decisions to the people.

Doyle McManus is a Los Angeles Times columnist. © 2021 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

Democrats' Path To Big Legislation Runs Through West Virginia. Is It A Dead End?

Democrats' Path To Big Legislation Runs Through West Virginia. Is It A Dead End?

Manchin was in "listening mode"

Despite Manchin's steadfast stance on the legislation, NAACP President Derrick Johnson called the meeting "productive" and said he believes Manchin is someone "committed to making democracy work."

"Our goal was to establish and build the relationship [with Manchin], and we accomplished that," he told NPR. "Now the real work starts, because the commitment from the senator and from us is that we would maintain the dialogue and work as hard as possible to come up with a solution that can actually become policy."

He added: "The work of the NAACP in this moment is around the outcome to protect the rights of voters, and one meeting won't solve that."

Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, also said it was a good first meeting.

"[Manchin] was very much in a listening mode. He shared his viewpoints," she told NPR. "He seemed to really have a deep concern that our democracy is really at a crossroads."


Biden Says He Will Ramp Up Push To Expand Voting Rights, And Puts Harris In Charge

Counting votes in the Senate

Campbell said she discussed in the meeting how the filibuster has historically been used to block civil rights legislation.

"And here we are in 2021 with a Senate . that could actually stop the ability to make voting rights reform when we are having an all-out assault on voting rights all over this country."

Since Democrats hold the thinnest of majorities in the Senate, either they need 10 Republicans to join them in supporting the legislation, which is extremely unlikely, or they need to eliminate the filibuster and allow the bill to advance with a simple majority, something Manchin has repeatedly said he opposes.

Speaking with CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, Manchin said he wants to work to get Republicans on board with passing a voting rights bill.

"I'm going to fight for this, and I think the Republicans will fight for this and understand we must come together on a voting rights bill in a bipartisan way," he said.


Why Possibly Changing The Filibuster Brings Threats Of Political 'Nuclear' War


In Push To End Filibuster, Democrats Point To Its Civil Rights-Era History

Manchin's counterproposal gets pushback

Manchin supports HR 4, also known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

But that measure is also unlikely to get support from 10 Republican senators.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the voting rights legislation is intact and that the Supreme Court struck down only a piece on pre-clearance because it decided conditions had changed since the law was passed.

"So there's no threat to the Voting Rights [Act]. It's against the law to discriminate in the voting on the basis of race already, and so I think [the Lewis bill] is unnecessary," he told reporters.

Johnson, of the NAACP, commended Manchin for his support of HR 4 but said it's not encompassing of everything that he believes is needed.

"That piece of legislation is important as you look forward, but there's some recent activity that we also have to address by states like Georgia and several other jurisdictions so that individuals have access to voting free and clear from voter suppression methods," he said.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., told reporters Tuesday morning that "it's not an either-or proposition" between the two pieces of legislation.

"I'm glad that we have the John Lewis bill, appropriately named in his honor," he said. "But let's be clear: John Lewis spent his last 10 years fighting for the provisions of the For the People Act, because he understood that over the last decade, we've seen an assault on voting rights across our country that sought to roll back the very protections that he fought for."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to her Democratic colleagues Tuesday that HR 4 won't be ready until the fall and shouldn't be considered a "substitute" for HR 1, the For the People Act.

"Congressman John Lewis wrote 300 pages of H.R. 1 to end voter suppression," she wrote. "It would be our hope to have this pass the House and Senate in a bipartisan way."

Democrats plan to hold a vote on the measure this month, even though it's expected to fail.

Voting rights bill advances in Senate over GOP objections

Washington &mdash The Senate on Tuesday advanced S. 1, the For the People Act, setting up a floor vote for the controversial bill. Senators clashed over voting rights and election procedures for hours in a contentious committee meeting to consider amendments for the massive bill.

Democrats claim the legislation is necessary to counter new voting restrictions being considered by multiple states. But Republicans argued that the bill is a naked power grab, and voted down an amendment that would have made several changes to the legislation based on feedback from state and local election officials.

The committee deadlocked 9-9 along party lines on whether to approve the bill. The committee can't report it out, but Senate rules allow Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring the bill to the floor. All nine Republicans voted against the bill, even though some amendments proposed by GOP senators had been adopted.

The House approved the For the People Act by a vote of 220 to 210 in March, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it. The bill would overhaul government ethics and campaign finance laws, and seek to strengthen voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and expanding access to early and absentee voting. It also includes some measures that would require states to overhaul their registration systems, limit states' ability to remove people from voter rolls, increase federal funds for election security and reform the redistricting process.

In a sign of how critical the issue is for both parties, Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both appeared at the "markup" session before the Senate Rules Committee, a rarity for committee meetings to consider bills.

In his statement, Schumer argued that there was a reactionary effort by states to limit voting rights, "led by one party and compelled by the most dishonest president in American history." Several Republican-controlled states have recently passed or are considering legislation to restrict voting rights, in the wake of former President Donald Trump's electoral loss and a rise in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Opponents argue such bills disproportionately affect minority and poorer voters, who tend to support the Democratic Party.

America's Right To Vote

"In the wake of the 2020 elections, deemed the most secure in American history of the previous administration, former President Trump told a lie, a big lie, that the election was stolen," Schumer said. "In states across the country, Republican legislatures have seized on the big lie to restrict the franchise."

He argued that the laws considered and passed in Republican-controlled states "carry the stench of oppression" and "the smell of bigotry." Schumer also said that the "price of admission" in the current Republican Party is "silence in the face of provable lies." A recent CBS News poll showed 70% of Republicans do not consider President Biden the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.

But McConnell countered that Democrats were making "hysterical attacks," citing the increased turnout across the country in the 2020 election. He argued the bill would let "Washington Democrats dictate the terms of their own reelection races" and said "popular safeguards like voter ID would be neutered."

McConnell said federal election bills, like the 2002 Help America Vote Act, need to be written and passed on a bipartisan basis.

"Our democracy is not in crisis," McConnell said, without addressing Schumer's comments on Mr. Trump's lies about the 2020 election. "This is a partisan effort to take over how you conduct elections in our country."

Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar, who oversaw the markup session, proposed a manager's amendment that revised several controversial parts of the House-passed bill. But the amendment failed with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against with a final tally of 9 to 9.

Only a few of dozens of proposed amendments have been approved, including an amendment that would examine the impact of widespread mail-in voting for active-duty service members passed with bipartisan support, and one to maintain e-voting for members of the military. Another amendment to restrict felons convicted of crimes against children to vote narrowly passed, after a contentious back-and-forth between Klobuchar and Senator Ted Cruz. Shortly thereafter, an amendment to restrict felons convicted of murder narrowly failed.

Despite hours of contentious debate, most of the amendments offered by both parties failed due to the even split of the committee. Amendments that would have stricken provisions on public campaign financing and ethics reform, which have been criticized by Republicans, also failed.

McConnell offered some amendments, including one to undo a provision in S. 1 that would revamp the Federal Elections Commission so that it would have a 3-to-2 split, instead of being evenly divided. Unlike Schumer, McConnell attended the meeting for most of the day.

The FEC has not been able to appoint a general counsel in seven years because of the even division of the panel. McConnell argued that the current 3-to-3 partisan deadlock of the panel "is a decision."

"I don't think there's any dysfunction at all," McConnell said. However, his amendment failed along party lines.

Another amendment introduced by McConnell, which also failed, would have struck many of the campaign finance disclosure requirements. Democrats argued it's about ensuring voters know who is paying for election-related expenses, while McConnell and other Republicans said it would infringe on protected political speech.

"That is precisely what this is about: quiet the voices of citizens, particularly who gather together in 501(c)4s in order to express their views," McConnell said, referring to outside groups who don't have to disclose their donors. "The founding fathers would be appalled, appalled to think that we're trying to prevent political discourse at the heart of the first amendment."

Some of the provisions already in the bill are broadly popular. A Pew Research poll from April found that 61% of Americans support automatic registration for citizens who are eligible to vote, 78% support making early and in-person voting available to voters for at least two weeks prior to Election Day and 76% support requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification before voting. But county election clerks and state and local election officials from both parties have also warned that some of the bill's provisions relating to election administration would be too difficult and expensive to implement.

Klobuchar's proposed manager's amendment would have revised several controversial parts of the House-passed bill. The lengthy proposal contained multiple individual amendments offered by the senator managing debate on the bill. "We have a good bill with broadly popular positions," Klobuchar said in her opening statement on Tuesday. "I urge my Republican colleagues not to disregard these efforts."

But congressional Republicans unanimously oppose the bill, arguing that it amounts to a federal takeover of state-run elections. An aide to GOP Senator Roy Blunt, the ranking member of the committee, told CBS News that Republicans planned to "focus their arguments on the numerous ways in which S.1 will make elections less fair and less secure" and that Blunt "expects a lengthy and robust debate on the bill."

"This is, in my view, a bad bill with bad policies that creates more problems than it does solutions," Blunt said in his opening statement on Tuesday.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz repeatedly slammed the bill, calling it "Jim Crow 2.0." Cruz falsely claimed that the bill would allow undocumented immigrants to vote, and that this would dilute the vote of citizens, thus amounting to voter suppression.

"The Democrats want to stop the voters from voting Democrats out of power," Cruz argued.

Cruz introduced an amendment to explicitly include language to prevent non-citizens from being able to register to vote through automatic voter registration. Democrats on the committee noted that there are safeguards in the bill to prevent this from occurring, making the amendment redundant. Cruz countered that Democrats should then support his amendment, if they really believed undocumented immigrants should be prevented from registering to vote. However, it failed along party lines. Several states, including some red states, have already adopted automatic voter registration.

Schumer has promised to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote if it advances out of committee as expected. But Republicans are expected to filibuster the bill, setting up a challenge for Democrats on how to respond to Republican obstruction of their priorities.

Most legislation requires 60 votes to advance on the Senate floor, but Democrats only hold a 50-seat majority, meaning they would need support from 10 Republicans to pass the For the People Act. Some progressives and outside advocacy groups have pushed for eliminating the filibuster , which would allow for legislation to be approved by a simple majority.

A new poll from Fix Our Senate, a coalition of organizations advocating for the filibuster to be eliminated, found that 50% of voters nationwide support reforming the filibuster once informed that "under the current rules for the Senate, all it takes is a single senator to block the majority from bringing legislation to a vote by creating a filibuster that takes 60 senators to end."

The poll also found that 46% of voters said they would feel positively if their senator supported filibuster reform, compared to 26% who would feel negatively towards their senator. According to the online poll, which was conducted in April with 1,218 people who voted in 2020, 74% of voters support reintroducing the talking filibuster, which would force senators to stay on the floor continuously to block a bill this proposal is also supported by 69% of Republicans.

Another proposed reform would eliminate the filibuster for certain types of bills, like those related to voting rights, which is supported by 62% of all voters. But while eliminating the filibuster outright has support from 58% of voters as a whole, only 35% of Republicans support taking this step.

"The polling affirms that when people learn what's at stake, they care more about issues like protecting our right to vote than preserving the filibuster &mdash and a lot is at stake right now with Republicans passing egregious voter suppression laws across the country," Fix Our Senate spokesperson Eli Zupnick said in a statement to CBS News.

However, at least two Senate Democrats have expressed opposition to ending the filibuster, meaning that the rules are unlikely to change any time soon. One of the most vocal opponents of eliminating the filibuster, Senator Joe Manchin, has also expressed skepticism about the For the People Act. In a March statement, Manchin said he believed senators should come together to work on bipartisan voting legislation.

"We can and we must reform our federal elections together &mdash not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans to restore the faith and trust in our democracy," he said.

Manchin said on April 30 in an interview with WV MetroNews that he would "vote no" on the bill "as it exists today." On Monday, he told reporters at the Capitol that he had not looked over the changes by Klobuchar, but said he was "open" to hearing more and was "looking at everything."

Voting rights bill seems doomed in Senate, without Murkowski on board

Election workers help voters at Service High School in Anchorage on Election Day 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday the Senate will vote before the end of June on a bill to expand access to voting, though its chances of becoming law are slim.

Among Senate Republicans, Lisa Murkowski is the most likely to be on board. She’s not.

Murkowski said the House bill, called the “For the People Act,” goes too far.

She said she didn’t like the way the bill would change the Federal Elections Commission, which she said would make it more political. And Murkowski said states need to be in charge of redrawing congressional districts.

“Redistricting oversight — I’m not supportive of nationalizing that, to use the terminology,” she said, ending a string of objections she has to the bill. “So there are areas that are substantive and that I think need to be addressed.”

Murkowski is the only Senate Republican to co-sponsor the more limited John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

That bill would revive the Voting Right Act of 1965. The Supreme Court effectively gutted the law in 2013, ruling Alaska and eight other states with a history of discrimination did not need Justice Department oversight of their election laws. The John Lewis bill would restore a key tool of the 1965 law, establishing new criteria for when states have to seek federal approval to change their voting practices.

The “For the People Act,” which the House passed in March, is far more broad. Among other things, it requires states to allow online and same-day voter registration. It mandates at least 15 days of early voting and voting by mail.

Republican critics argue it tilts the field for Democrats. Democrats say one goal is to curb new state laws designed to restrict access to favor Republicans.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said he can’t vote for the bill. Without at least one Republican supporting it, the bill will fail.

Murkowski said she supports some policies in the House bill, and is proud Alaska already has good access to the voting booth.

“We have long allowed for absentee voting for any reason,” she said. “In fact, I didn’t have any appreciation as to how many states actually are so extraordinarily limited and restricted in the opportunity for voting absentee.”

The League of Women Voters has endorsed the broad voting rights bill. League President for Alaska, Judy Andree, said the “For the People Act” would protect democracy.

“It’s just trying to making it equal across the country, so that the eligible voters in every state are treated the same and don’t have roadblocks put in their way,” Andree said. “And I think that’s something that everyone in Congress should support.”

Andree said the League has contacted Murkowski and is reaching out to Sen. Dan Sullivan, too.

Sullivan’s office wasn’t able to provide a statement describing his position on the voting rights bills.

Congressman Don Young voted against the “For the People” bill in March, as did all Republicans present.

Joe Manchin and the Magic 50th Vote for Democrats’ Voting Rights Bill

Democrats know that their election overhaul has no chance as long as the filibuster exists, but they are eager to show that all that stands in its way are Republicans.

Democrats and progressive activists who have been working for months on a sweeping voting rights bill quickly embraced on Thursday a new, far narrower plan suddenly put forward by Senator Joe Manchin III, their party’s sole holdout on the issue.

Their decision to do so did nothing to improve the chances that the legislation could get through the Senate, but it reflected another significant goal for Democrats: uniting the party around what it has billed as its highest priority and showing that, were it not for Republican opposition and the filibuster, the elections overhaul would become law.

Much to the growing consternation of Senate Republicans, the alternative ideas put forward by Mr. Manchin — a centrist from West Virginia and the only Democrat who has refused to support what is known as S. 1 — quickly gained traction with progressive Democrats and activists, most notably Stacey Abrams, the voting rights champion in Georgia.

On Thursday, she praised his plan, even though it is more limited in scope than the original Democratic measure. The proposal would make Election Day a holiday, require 15 days of early voting and ban partisan gerrymandering, among other steps.

“What Senator Manchin is putting forward are some basic building blocks that we need to ensure that democracy is accessible, no matter your geography,” Ms. Abrams, a former candidate for Georgia governor, said on CNN.

Given her national standing on the issue, her endorsement was a huge boost for Mr. Manchin’s approach — though it only hardened Republican opposition to a measure they have made clear that they intend to block at all costs. They see Ms. Abrams as both a lightning rod with conservatives and a real threat on election policy, whose efforts helped President Biden win her state’s electoral votes and hand Democrats two crucial Georgia Senate seats that gave them the majority.

Senator Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who is a leading opponent of the Democratic bill, said at a news conference on Thursday that her enthusiasm for Mr. Manchin’s proposal transformed it into the Abrams alternative.

But as far as Senate Democrats are concerned, it is Mr. Manchin whose support is most important. The reason is the magic number of 50.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has hesitated to bring top Democratic priorities to the floor this year without the backing of all 50 senators. Given the Senate’s even partisan split, it takes every Democrat and Democratic-leaning independent, plus the tiebreaking power of Vice President Kamala Harris, to guarantee a majority. Then, if Republicans mount a filibuster, Democrats can point out that they had the votes to approve legislation, bolstering their argument that the Senate rules are being abused by Republicans and unfairly impeding highly popular policy changes.

With a test vote on the measure looming next week, Mr. Manchin’s opposition to the voting rights measure threatened to be a major embarrassment for Democrats. Republicans were eager to pounce and proclaim that with Mr. Manchin on their side of the vote tally, it was the opposition to the bill that was bipartisan, not the legislation itself.

So if Mr. Manchin could be brought on board by granting him some pride of authorship on provisions Democrats deemed reasonable and worthwhile, they appeared more than ready to agree. As Mr. Schumer took procedural steps to set up a vote on the elections bill as early as Tuesday, a spokesman was quick to note that the measure being put on the floor could “act as the vehicle for the voting rights legislation being discussed with Senator Manchin.”

With Mr. Manchin’s support, Democrats could then claim at least a symbolic victory, if not a legislative one, when Republicans block the bill through a filibuster.

And a filibuster there will be. With Mr. Manchin suddenly within reach for the Democrats, Republicans on Thursday escalated their attacks on the voting rights bill, portraying it as a power-grabbing abomination. They were not impressed by the West Virginian’s tinkering.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, assailed Mr. Manchin’s approach, pointedly noting in a statement that it was backed by Ms. Abrams.

“It still retains S. 1’s rotten core,” he said.

Though some Republicans had previously expressed willingness to talk to Mr. Manchin about a potential elections compromise, it seemed impossible to imagine even a few — let alone 10 — of them siding with Democrats on a measure that was eliciting such wrath. Mr. Blunt indicated there was no conceivable Democratic bill he could support.

In a show of the depth of the party’s opposition and outrage, 15 other Republicans joined Mr. McConnell at a news conference on Thursday. One by one, they impugned the measure and the Democrats for backing it, vowing to defeat it.

“The mother of all power grabs is going to fail,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who like most of his colleagues denounced the legislation as a transparent attempt by Democrats to gain advantage in elections and permanently install themselves in power.

The Battle Over Voting Rights

After former President Donald J. Trump returned in recent months to making false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states have marched ahead to pass laws making it harder to vote and change how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.

    • A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become central issues in American politics. As of May 14, lawmakers had passed 22 new laws in 14 states to make the process of voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute.
    • The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
    • More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
    • Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate, including from Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would most likely face steep legal challenges.
    • Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
    • Texas: Texas Democrats successfully blocked the state’s expansive voting bill, known as S.B. 7, in a late-night walkout and are starting a major statewide registration program focused on racially diverse communities. But Republicans in the state have pledged to return ina special session and pass a similar voting bill. S.B. 7 included new restrictions on absentee voting granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting.
    • Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. And Iowa has imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day.

    “It is radical,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican. “It is extreme. It is dangerous. It is scary.”

    All year long, Mr. McConnell has privately urged Senate Republicans to “take care of Joe,” according to people who have heard him, to help keep Mr. Manchin — his party’s leading opponent of eliminating the filibuster — on board against weakening the procedural tool. But that solicitude evidently extends only so far.

    Mr. McConnell angered Mr. Manchin by employing the filibuster against the proposal to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol riot. Now, he is promising to use the tactic against what could become Mr. Manchin’s voting measure.

    For Democrats who only a week ago had been down over Mr. Manchin’s declared opposition to S. 1, his sudden involvement in shaping a compromise was a very welcome turn of events.

    “I’ve been so impressed by the work that Senator Manchin has put into this the last couple of weeks,” Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon and a chief author of S. 1, told reporters on a conference call organized by progressive activists backing the legislation. “He is deeply engaged.”

    With Democrats willing to incorporate Mr. Manchin's ideas into the legislation and excise parts to which he objects, they now hope that he will join his colleagues next week in support of a procedural vote to open debate on an elections bill. Republicans are on record saying they do not want the bill to see a minute of floor time and intend to block even that initial step.

    Democrats will then need to decide how to proceed. While Mr. Manchin has expressed new openness to backing a broad elections bill, he has also said repeatedly that he will never vote to change the filibuster rules. That presents a problem, since no elections bill is likely to escape a Republican filibuster, leaving that measure and others essentially dead at the hands of the procedural tactic.

    The hope of top Democrats and activists is that the Republican opposition to the election measure, the Capitol riot commission and a blockaded pay equity bill then helps persuade Mr. Manchin and a handful of other reluctant Democrats that the party’s agenda and possibly its electoral future are imperiled by the filibuster. And they want to be able to note that the stalled bills all earned a majority of 50 votes or more.

    Selma to Montgomery Marches

    There had already been numerous protests and marches in Selma before the famous Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965 had occurred. On February 17, 1965, during a protest, an activist, Jimmy Lee Jackson had been shot. He died days later from his injuries. This led to the marches, which were intended to be nonviolent protests, but the Selma Sheriff James Clark greatly opposed the march and responded with violence. Not only were the protestors victims of an unprovoked attack by law enforcement, but many other acts of violence occurred during this time, including some fatalities. The national attention and general outcry against these events helped to get the Voting Rights Act enacted.

    Fighting gerrymandering: The next big battle over voting rights

    What has me confused is why Schumer isn’t already lining up vote after vote on the House-passed version of this bill now. The best argument against this is that he doesn’t have the full backing of his caucus yet Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the only Democrat who isn’t a co-sponsor of the For the People Act, isn’t a fan of the bill’s omnibus approach (or, I’d bet, the lack of political cover that would come with Republicans signing on in support like he wants.)

    But the first step for getting the For the People Act through the Senate would be passing a motion to proceed, which puts a bill on the floor to debate. Simple enough, until you remember that the motion can be filibustered, raising the threshold to 60 votes under current rules.

    The point of these bills and the messaging around them is to actually cause less trust in the electoral system among Republican voters.

    In this case, that could work to Schumer’s advantage. Talking Manchin into voting to proceed will be easier than convincing him to vote for the full bill as it stands, knowing as he does that it won’t work without 10 Republicans in support. That leaves a united Democratic caucus seemingly ready to start debating the House-passed version of the bill, in the face of unified Republican opposition.

    Next, rinse and repeat two or three times over coming months to make clear that the GOP really doesn’t want to talk about voting rights, apparently. While this is happening, Democrats should continue to mark up the Senate’s version of the bill as they’re preparing to do in the Senate Rules Committee later this month. There are definitely things that need to be addressed in the House-passed version, as election experts have noted, including deadlines that state and local election administrators are unsure they can meet even if the funding they need materializes.

    That gets us to the summer, where we will be able to see the payoff for forcing Republicans to filibuster the earlier, unamended version of H.R. 1. At this point, Schumer will have hopefully gotten his chamber in order and on the same page — in some alternate universe, he will even have one or two Republicans who support the bill.

    Post-Shelby County

    Following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby County v. Holder case, states in the South and beyond began to unleash a wave of election changes to take advantage of the Court’s erosion of the VRA’s protections. These changes continue to this day.

    June 25, 2013

    The Court decides in Shelby County v. Holder

    The 5-4 decision defanged the VRA by freeing jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination in voting from having to gain federal approval, called “preclearance,” before changing their election laws.

    In her renowned dissent, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

    The uptick in restrictive voting laws following the decision proved Ginsburg right.

    For instance, on the same day that the Court decided in the case surrounding Shelby County, Texas, which used to be subject to preclearance, enacted a voter identification law — “the most stringent in the country,” as a federal court described it the previous year.

    More recently, Arizona and Georgia — also former preclearance states — have joined Texas to become the states with the highest number of bills restricting voting access introduced in the 2021 legislative session.

    December 6, 2019

    Democratic-led House passes HR 4

    Also called the Voting Rights Advancement Act, HR 4 would revise parts of the VRA that were gutted as a result of the 2013 Shelby County decision. HR 4 wasn’t brought up for a vote in the Senate (which at the time was controlled by Republicans), and it has not yet been introduced in the current Congress.

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    November 7, 2020

    CNN projects Democrat Joe Biden to win the 2020 presidential election

    Not long after Biden’s projected win, Republican Donald Trump and his allies began pushing baseless claims of mass voter fraud in cities including Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — cities that are majority Black or have significant Black populations. The implicit message was that certain votes shouldn’t count.

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    January 6, 2021

    Fatal attack on the US Capitol

    At Trump’s exhortation, a Confederate flag-waving mob laid siege to the US Capitol. Rioters sought to overturn Biden’s victory in the November election.

    Observers pointed out how the attack echoed previous instances of White backlash to racial equality, given the pivotal role that Black voters played in the 2020 contest and the prevalence of White supremacist and extremist symbols among the rioters.

    That same day, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Democrats, were declared the winners in Georgia’s January 5 runoff elections. Many historians argue that Georgia’s runoff system was created as a means of diluting Black political power.

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    January 7, 2021

    Georgia’s Republican House Speaker David Ralston comments on ‘election integrity’ in press conference

    Ralston said that he’s “certain” that election reform will take center stage in the upcoming legislative session, and he announced that he’d be appointing a special “election integrity” committee to examine Georgia’s election laws. In addition, Ralston signaled a readiness to consider “taking the elections function out of that (the secretary of state’s) office.”

    March 2, 2021

    The Court hears oral arguments in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee

    The case centers on two Arizona policies: One discards out-of-precinct ballots, and the other largely prohibits third-party groups from returning early ballots for another person. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals struck down these policies, arguing that they’re racially discriminatory under the VRA.

    Many Republicans hope that the Court will come to a different conclusion and thus open up the possibility for more restrictive voting laws nationwide.

    March 3, 2021

    Democratic-led House passes HR 1

    Also called the For the People Act, HR 1, which was originally introduced in 2019, would expand voting via policies such as automatic and same-day voter registration. However, HR 1 faces long odds in the 50-50 Senate at least in part because of the filibuster, a tactic that’s long been used to frustrate civil rights progress.

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    March 17, 2021

    Warnock gives his maiden floor speech

    In his first speech on the Senate floor, Warnock spoke about the precarious state of voting rights.

    “We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve ever seen since the Jim Crow era,” he said. “It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society.”

    March 25, 2021

    Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signs an anti-voting rights bill into law

    SB 202 imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, allows state officials to take over local election boards, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime for people who aren’t poll workers to approach voters in line to give them food and water.

    Democrat Stacey Abrams — who founded Fair Fight after losing to Kemp in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, a race choked with controversy — has been vocal in her opposition to Georgia Republicans’ antidemocratic maneuvering.

    “At a time when Georgia ranks as the worst state for Covid vaccination rates, Georgia Republicans instead are singularly focused on reviving Georgia's dark past of racist voting laws,” Abrams said in a March statement.

    May 6, 2021

    Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis also signs a restrictive voting bill

    SB 90 imposes stricter voter identification requirements for voting by mail, limits who can pick up and return a voter’s ballot, and prohibits private funding for elections, among other things.

    “Me signing this bill says, ‘Florida, your vote counts. Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy,’” DeSantis said after signing the bill, repeating that deceptive Republican watchword: integrity.

    Mere minutes after DeSantis signed the bill, a coalition that includes the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Black Voters Matter Fund filed a lawsuit to challenge several of the new law’s provisions.

    Democratic state Rep. Michael Grieco saw clear parallels between Georgia’s SB 202 and Florida’s SB 90.

    “That bill that was passed in the state just north of us sent us a message, and the response to that bill should let us know we should not be doing this,” he said during House debate earlier this year.