Senate Democrats will introduce their version of the For The People Act, a sweeping voting rights proposal and single-largest election legislation since the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said lawmakers will revive the bill from Mitch McConnell’s “legislative graveyard” after the Republican Senator sidelined the bill along with other Democratic-backed measures.
The bill is an antidote to “despicable” acts of voter suppression across the US, Mr Schumer said, pointing to the more than 250 GOP-sponsored bills aimed at restricting ballot access in at least 43 state legislatures in the wake of the 2020 election, compelled by Donald Trump’s persistent lie that the election was tainted by “irregularities” and “stolen” from his supporters.
“When you lose an election, what you do in a democracy is try to win over the people who didn’t vote for you, not prevent them from voting,” Mr Schumer said on Wednesday at a Capitol press conference. “That is autocratic. That is anti-Democratic. That is anti-American.”
Voting restrictions will disproportionately target Democratic-leaning voters of colour, according to civil rights groups and voting rights advocates.
“It’s Jim Crow, a century after we thought Jim Crow was dying, and it’s been resurrected in the most horrible way,” said Mr Schumer.
The legislation, along with other White House-backed measures in Congress, is likely to face steep Republican opposition in the Senate to fall short of a 60-vote threshold to pass. Senate Democrats are facing mounting pressure to reform the filibuster to pass critical items on their agenda and bypass GOP roadblocks.
Mr Schumer suggested lawmakers have not ruled that out.
“Failure is not an option” he said. “Our caucus will decide the appropriate action to take. Everything is on the table.”
A version of the bill passed in the House of Representatives would mandate automatic voter registration, at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, and mail-in voting and drop boxes for absentee ballots, among a host of other proposals wrapped into the bill. It would also make it more difficult to purge voters from voter rolls and would restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people.
The legislation also seeks to eliminate partisan gerrymandering and dark money influence from politics, and would create an avenue for public financing of congressional campaigns.
In his first-ever floor speech, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia introduced the bill in the Senate on Wednesday, calling GOP efforts to cut mail-in voting and early voting days, impose voter ID restrictions and other measures are “Jim Crow in new clothes.”
He said passage of the For The People Act is “too important to be held hostage to Senate rules”
“It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society,” he said.
He also urged passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which revives the civil rights legislation after elements of the law that prohibit discrimination at the polls were tossed out by the US Supreme Court in 2013.
“We must find a way to pass voting rights whether we get rid of the filibuster or not,” he said.
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