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Senate to hold key vote on Democrats’ sweeping voting rights bill

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Washington — The Senate on Tuesday is set to hold a key procedural vote on a sweeping voting and elections reform bill, an attempt by Democrats to respond to restrictive voting measures enacted by Republican-led states across the country in the wake of the 2020 election. But the measure is all but certain to fail, given Senate Republicans’ staunch opposition.

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.”

The bill, known as the For the People Act or S. 1, would be the greatest overhaul of election laws in a generation, revamping government ethics and campaign finance laws while 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.

President Biden on Tuesday urged Congress to send the bill to his desk for signature.

“We can’t sit idly by while democracy is in peril — here, in America,” Mr. Biden tweeted before the test vote. “We need to protect the sacred right to vote and ensure ‘We the People’ choose our leaders, the very foundation on which our democracy rests. We urgently need the For The People Act.”

While Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said this month he opposed the initial version of the elections overhaul, raising concerns about passing such sweeping legislation without any bipartisan support, he announced that he will vote to proceed to debate on the bill. Despite Manchin’s support, the measure will not clear the procedural hurdle requiring 60 votes, since Democrats control just 50 seats.

Manchin eased his initial opposition last week, circulating a list of demands for the voting legislation. The list included provisions banning partisan gerrymandering and mandating at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections. Manchin’s list also included areas of compromise relating to ethics and campaign finance.

In a statement ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Manchin said the updated bill would expand early voting and vote by mail, and implement “voter ID requirements that aim to strengthen the security of our elections without making it harder for Americans to vote.” It would also require the disclosure of donors who make campaign contributions of $10,000 or more.

Psaki said Monday that Mr. Biden had discussed the legislation with members of Congress, including Manchin. The president also hosted the senator at the White House on Monday, where they discussed voting rights. Mr. Biden “conveyed that he sees voting rights as one of the most urgent issues facing our nation,” a White House official said.

“This is a compromise,” Psaki said. “And as that happens, as compromises happen. It means there is a lot that you like about it and it may not be everything you love but he certainly sees this as a step forward.”

The expansive voting rights bill has backing from former President Barack Obama, who urged Congress on Monday to pass legislation before the 2022 midterm elections.

“The violence that occurred in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, just a few months ago, should remind us that we can’t take our democracy for granted,” Mr. Obama said on a call with grassroots supporters.

Even though Democrats finally appeared to be coalescing around the bill, Republicans remained adamant in their opposition. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said states, not the federal government, should retain control over their elections and called the measure “a solution in search of a problem.”

The bill, GOP Senator Roy Blunt said, “is not about more democracy. It’s about more Democrats.”

In anticipation of the Senate vote, Vice President Kamala Harris, who is leading the administration’s efforts on voting rights, spoke with Schumer over the weekend about the path forward, aides said. The vice president also has spoken with a number of senators and House members, as well as voting rights advocates, including the head of the NAACP.

The House passed a version of the bill in March, but it 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.

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 gutted 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.

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.



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