A group of students participating in a hunger strike to demand congressional action on voting rights have met with Democratic US Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who has opposed reforming filibuster rules that have blocked progress on legislation.
Now entering a sixth day of their hunger strike, the group of 20 students from Arizona State University, University of Arizona and other colleges in the state have urged the Arizona senator to support federal voting rights legislation as well as a carveout for filibuster rules to prevent Republican obstruction.
Senate Republicans invoked a filibuster four times this year to stop voting rights legislation from advancing to the floor for a vote, and this year marked the first ever that the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 was not renewed with majority bipartisan support.
Democrats need the support of at least 10 Republicans to reach a 60-vote threshold to break the filibuster in the evenly divided Senate; a growing body of lawmakers and activists have urged Democratic senators to abolish filibuster rules to pass legislation with a simple majority vote.
Members of AZ Youth Hunger Strike for Democracy spoke with Senator Sinema on 9 December, their fourth day of their indefinite hunger strike, as they prepared to travel to Washington DC.
“Senator Sinema agreed with us: our voting rights are under attack by state legislators in Arizona and across the country, and faith in our elections are at a historic low,” striker Georgia Linden said in a statement.
“She thanked us for our efforts, expressed a desire to remain in conversation, and reiterated her support for the Freedom To Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” according to Ms Linden.
The group hopes that Senator Sinema “will do whatever it takes” when the time comes for the bills’ passage, she added.
The group has not received a response from Joe Biden’s administration about requests to meet “to discuss the moral urgency of this moment,” according to the group’s statement.
“We hope that by coming to DC, with empty stomachs but hearts full of determination, the president will agree to meet with us, and more importantly, act with the urgency that this moment requires,” Ms Linden said.
Republican lawmakers in at least 19 states have enacted at least 33 restrictive voting laws this year, according to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice.
States also are in the middle of the once-a-decade process of redrawing their political boundaries for the first time in decades without significant federal oversight to prevent racial discrimination at the polls.
Senators Sinema and Joe Manchin – both Democrats – have opposed filibuster reform efforts, imperiling legislation that they have both co-sponsored.
Senate Republicans rejected movement on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which aims to revive and strengthen measures against racially discriminatory voting laws after a pair of US Supreme Court rulings undermined key elements of the landmark civil rights law.
They also shot down chances at a vote on the For The People Act (twice) as well as a slimmed-down “compromise” version, the Freedom to Vote Act, which provides national standards for early voting and mail-in voting and makes Election Day a national holiday, among other measures.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that he will plan to reintroduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and Freedom to Vote Act.
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