This next month could be everything for the Democrats’ voting rights push

Will Democrats embrace the urgency of this issue, asks John Bowden

Friday 31 December 2021 04:57 GMT
Sen Joe Manchin speaks to reporters in the Capitol
Sen Joe Manchin speaks to reporters in the Capitol (Getty)

We’re coming down to the wire on the question of whether the Democrats will pass voting-rights legislation under Joe Biden’s administration.

The president is approaching the end of his first year in office. Technically speaking, Biden will be president for the next three years, but even the most optimistic of Democrats is looking at the 2022 midterms as a major minefield for the party, which cannot afford to drop a single net seat in the Senate without losing control of the chamber.

That means they have another 12 months, optimistically, to pass voting-rights legislation, and less than that if they want the bill’s provisions to take effect before the 2022 midterms.

Activists are worried that the timeline is even shorter; after several failed attempts to push legislation through the Senate, organisers are hoping that two Democratic Senate holdouts will drop their opposition to changes to the filibuster and push through the most recent form of the party’s voting-rights push, the Freedom to Vote Act, after previous iterations failed to gain any GOP support.

Most activists and reformists personally involved in negotiations over the issue expect progress to come within the next month or two, if it is to come at all under the Biden presidency.

Harvard’s Larry Lessig expressed optimism about movement in the Senate on voting rights during a recent interview with The Independent; those hopes have yet to materialise, but Biden has intensified his calls for changes to the filibuster as his administration faces a growing chorus urging action on the issue.

It now threatens to splinter the Democratic coalition in a deeply unfavourable manner just months before the midterm elections.

The faction calling for action, even at the expense of the filibuster, is supported by high-profile Black Democrats and championed at the White House by vice-president Kamala Harris. A loss of enthusiasm among that demographic would be devastating to Democratic chances of holding the House and Senate in the midterms.

The House and Senate return to session in early January. Will two Democratic senators risk alienating, if not the most, then one of the most important voting blocs making up their party’s base? And what do they gain by doing so? Only time will tell.


John Bowden

Washington DC correspondent

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