What about voting rights?
Senate Democrats suffered a major defeat this week when Republicans signed their sweeping voting rights package, the Combined Freedom of Choice Act: John R. Lewis Act, and Democrats Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) joined all 50 GOP Senators to to block Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s efforts to introduce a “talking filibuster” that could force a simple majority vote by requiring opponents to continuously represent the Senate with lengthy speeches and procedural motions.
But that’s not the end of voting reform in America: Here’s what you need to know about where voting rights advocates are looking next, the role of the filibuster in defeating the bill, and why Democrats believe voting rights should be… is at a critical point.
Learn more about how to votesuch as claims of massive voter fraud in 2020 and .
What can Congress do now to expand voting rights?
President Joe Biden has hinted that the bill could potentially come back in modified form.
“One thing is for sure,” Biden said said last week. “Like every other major civil rights bill that has come up, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try a second time.”
Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the voting rights and election program at the Brennan Centerhopes for future legislation.
“Democrats have been promoting voting rights legislation for years and it’s always been shut down,” Morales-Doyle said. “In this session, the issue made it into the Senate for the first time in decades.”
And Senate Democrats have promised to keep pushing for electoral reform.
“We will continue to fight for the right to vote and it is important that we move forward,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) told reporters last week. “This is a crucial moment. I think everyone needs to be heard on the record. And we will continue to talk to our colleagues and see what happens.”
Zack Smith, a legal associate at the Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, believes Democrats could gain momentum for the next breakthrough “by taking some sensible election integrity measures.”
“They want to ban state voter ID laws, but the majority of voters don’t think that constitutes voter suppression,” Smith said. “In 2020 we have seen very high voter turnout rates, the highest in 100 years. This notion that voter suppression is rampant is somewhat misleading.”
Why is voting rights such a hot topic right now?
Democrats, including Biden, have made expanding voting rights a key issue after allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election were debunked in at least 19 states to enact dozens of restrictive voting rights laws.
“In recent years we have seen an unprecedented assault on our democracy and our right to vote,” Morales-Doyle said. “A wave of restrictive election laws across the country at unprecedented speed in the wake of the spread of this lie that the 2020 election was stolen.”
He added that the same rhetoric about voter fraud has also led to threats against poll officialson January 6, 2021.
The struggle for electoral reform will shift to the state level
Democrats looking to move forward with electoral reform are likely to turn to state legislatures now.
“It was in the statehouses that legislators implemented what I consider sensible actions,” Smith said. “So I think you’re going to see a lot more action at the state level. It’s more tedious and time-consuming, but that’s what the Founding Fathers intended.”
Voting rights advocates managed to remove provisions from electoral measures in Georgia and Texas that would have prevented early voting on Sundays, Morales-Doyle said.
Ban what is called that “Souls to the Elections” strategy would have “very heavily targeted the black community,” he said. “But it was stopped.”
The evolving role of the judiciary in expanding voter rights
Outside the legislature, pro-suffrage advocates traditionally look to the judiciary for redress.
Last week, Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Michael O. Bohren ruled so Postal voting mailboxes are illegal in the Badger State, overturning years of policy instituted by the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The judiciary could still be the next arena for electoral reform: in November, the Justice Department filed lawsuit against Texas under Senate Bill 1, which was signed by Governor Greg Abbott in November. According to court documents, the law “restricted voter support in elections and the acceptance of absentee ballots by eligible voters.”
“It has also criminalized election officials who solicit absentee ballot records,” Morales-Doyle added. “Encouragement to apply for absentee ballots is now punishable by up to six months in prison,”
the Electoral Integrity Act (PDF) also grants “freedom of movement” to partisan election observers inside a polling station and makes it a crime for poll officials to take actions that “obstruct partisan observers,” Morales-Doyle said. “It puts the rights of partisans ahead of objective, impartial poll workers.”
The Ohio Supreme Court last week dejected the new map of the state’s Congress, which ruled that it violated a voter-passed amendment prohibiting the ban on partisan manipulation. The judges called the legislature’s efforts to draw county lines “the antithetical perversion of representative democracy.”
In August 2021 the Idaho Supreme Court the implementation of a Republican-backed law blocked critics said, would have made it virtually impossible for voters to propose an electoral initiative or referendum.
Isn’t there already a voting rights law?
Yes and No: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was landmark legislation aimed at enforcing the 15th Amendment and reversing racist voting practices introduced by Southern states in the Jim Crow era, including mandatory poll taxes and literacy tests for voting.
It gave federal auditors the power to register voters and required states with a history of discrimination to obtain federal approval before enacting new electoral laws or enacting constituency redistribution plans.
However, the law’s power has been significantly diluted over the past decade: In the 2013 case of Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court removed the requirement for state pre-approval before states could introduce new election laws.
In July 2021 Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the Supreme Courtpreventing both anyone and a family member from returning an early ballot for a registered voter, and discarding any ballot submitted in the wrong county — even if it was a statewide or federal office.
Plaintiffs in the case believed that this policy was racially motivated and violated both the Voting Rights Act and the Fifteenth Amendment.
Why do Senate Democrats want to change the filibuster rules?
The filibuster is a loosely defined term for actions designed to prolong debate and ultimately “delay or prevent a vote on a bill, resolution, amendment, or other controversial issue.” the US Senate website.
Republicans have used the tool to block much of recent Democrat legislation: there have been over 2,000 filibusters over the past century, according to reports Democracy Docketbut half happened in the last 12 years.
That has caused some to question the effectiveness of the Senate, which Biden said last week has “reduced to a shell of his former self.”
Why do Republicans oppose abolishing the filibuster?
“The minority party always wants to protect the filibuster,” Smith said. “Aside from reasons of principle, there are practical reasons why they don’t lose every fight.”
Smith points to previous comments by Schumer and Biden, who have staunchly defended the procedural tactic in the past.
“Changing Senate rules to quash extended debate — what short-sightedness and price history will require of those who support this radical move,” then-Sen. explained Joe Biden in a Judiciary Committee hearing in 2005.
The filibuster plays an important role in the Senate, Smith said.
“It should be the ‘cooling saucer’ to the seething temper of the House of Representatives,” he said.
What did the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act say?
The voting rights package that failed in the Senate would have expanded voting access, prohibited partisan manipulation and combated voter suppression, among other things.
- Require same-day and online voter registration and automate voter registration nationwide.
- All states must offer early voting at least 15 days before Election Day in easily accessible locations.
- States that have voter ID requirements for in-person voting must allow “a wide range of forms of identification (including electronic copies) and alternative options for voter validation,” including non-photo IDs, according to the Brennan Center.
- Increasing existing penalties for voter intimidation and introducing federal criminal sanctions for disseminating misinformation to deter voters.
- Harassing, intimidating, or threatening polling officials, volunteers, and poll workers becomes a federal crime.
- Restoring voting rights to previously imprisoned Americans upon their release.
- Addressing long lines at polling stations that disproportionately impact communities of color and restricting states from allowing food or water donations to voters waiting in line.