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Senate set to take up sweeping voting rights bill. But it’s unlikely to advance

▶ Watch Video: Democrats press forward with election reform vote despite GOP opposition

The Senate on Tuesday is set to take up a sweeping voting an elections reform bill, an attempt by Democrats to respond to the restrictive voting measures taken up and enacted by multiple Republican-led states across the country. But despite implementing changes to the bill to assuage a moderate Democrat, it is unlikely to receive sufficient support to advance to a full vote on the Senate floor.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday’s vote is simply to begin debate on voting rights. 

“It’s not a vote on any particular policy,” Schumer said. “It’s not a vote on this bill or that bill. It’s a vote on whether the Senate should simply debate the issue about voting rights, the crucial issue of voting rights in this country.”  

Schumer began the process last week to bring the bill, known as the For the People Act or S. 1, to consideration on the floor. It would be the greatest overhaul of election laws in a generation, revamping government ethics and campaign finance laws, and seeking 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.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters following a Senate Democratic luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on June 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate is in negotiations for a bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Senator Joe Manchin was the lone Democrat who opposed the bill, raising concerns about passing such sweeping legislation without any bipartisan support. The bill’s defenders note the raft of restrictive voting measures have passed in Republican-controlled state legislatures without any bipartisan support as well.

However, Manchin appeared to ease his opposition last week, circulating a list of demands for the voting legislation. According to a copy of the list obtained by CBS News, these areas of support include provisions banning partisan gerrymandering and mandating at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections. Manchin’s list also includes areas of compromise relating to ethics and campaign finance.

However, he supports some provisions that could be unpopular with progressive Democrats, such as requiring a voter ID with “allowable alternatives” for providing proof of identity to vote and allowing elections officials to purge voter rolls. He also does not appear to support no-excuse mail-in voting, although he would want to require states to send absentee ballots to eligible voters ahead of an election. The list did not address one of the most controversial campaign finance portions of the bill, which would provide public financing for congressional elections.

Despite these changes, Manchin’s revisions were quickly embraced by some key stakeholders. Stacey Abrams, a prominent voting rights activist and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, endorsed Manchin’s changes on Thursday, saying she “absolutely” would support it.

“What Senator Manchin is putting forward are some basic building blocks that we need to ensure that democracy is accessible,” Abrams told CNN.

Senator Raphael Warnock also said he supported Manchin’s changes, adding “we are making considerable progress.” The Democrat from Georgia has been a harsh critic of the restrictive voting measure passed in his state by the Republican legislature and signed into law by the Republican governor this year.

“We might squabble about one or two things but I am not about to sacrifice the good in pursuit of the perfect,” Warnock said. Manchin presented his proposal to his fellow Democrats in a meeting on Thursday afternoon. It is unclear whether the final version of the bill to be brought before the Senate on Thursday will include Manchin’s proposed changes, although Senate Rules Committee chair Amy Klobuchar said she would continue to work on the bill over the weekend.

“If we reach unity on a voting bill in the Democratic Party, with all of the debates we’ve been having over the last few months, I don’t think anything’s over yet,” she said last week.

But even though Democrats finally appear to be coalescing around the bill, Republicans remain adamant in their opposition. On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “the Senate will give this disastrous proposal no quarter.” Last week, McConnell called Manchin’s proposal “equally unacceptable” in a press conference on Thursday, and said in a statement that it “still retains S. 1’s rotten core.”

Republican Senator Roy Blunt said Abrams’ endorsement was proof that even an amended bill would be too liberal.

“When Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed Senator Manchin’s proposal, it became the Stacey Abrams substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute,” Blunt said at a press conference.

The House passed a version of the bill in March, but stalled in the Senate among infighting between Democrats and unified opposition from Republicans. The Rules Committee deadlocked on a vote to advance the bill to the floor in May, but Senate rules allowed Schumer to bring the bill to the floor.

Republican opposition is a problem for Democrats, who hold a narrow 50-seat majority in the Senate. Most legislation requires 60 votes to advance in the Senate, meaning Democrats would need support from at least 10 Republicans. Many progressive Democrats, including some in the Senate, have pushed for eliminating the filibuster so legislation could pass with a simple majority. But Manchin has remained adamant that he will not under any circumstance support ending the practice.

Although the vote to advance S. 1 is likely to fail, Manchin has pinned his hopes on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which so far has the support of a single Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski. The bill has not yet been introduced, but would restore a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. That provision required certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to receive approval, known as preclearance, from the federal government before making changes to their voting rules.

But the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the late congressman and civil rights icon, will likely not be considered until the fall, as the House is still gathering the evidence sufficient to prove that jurisdictions have patterns of voting discrimination.



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