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Senate Democrats Introduce Pared Down Voting Rights Bill, Vote Likely Next Week

September 14, 2021 by Dan McCue
A ballot box used in Fulton County, Georgia in 1919 on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats introduced a pared down version of the House voting rights bill Tuesday, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer indicated he likely will bring it to a vote in the chamber as early next week.

After introducing the bill, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., joined members of the voting rights group Declaration for American Democracy for a rally on the grounds outside of the Capitol.

“We will take our democracy back again from those who are trying to take away people’s constitutional rights to vote,” Klobuchar declared to a round of applause.

Despite the high spirits outside, however, the reality inside the Capitol is that proponents of the bill face what now looks like an almost impossible battle to win over the 10 Republicans needed to avoid a filibuster.

The legislation, known as the Freedom to Vote Act, includes many of the policy priorities Democrats packed in the For the People Act that was blocked by Senate Republicans earlier this year.

It would create an automatic voter registration system through each state’s motor vehicle agency, make Election Day a public holiday and provide voters with at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections.

It also is designed to curtail partisan “gerrymandering” of congressional districts and would put in place new campaign finance disclosure requirements that include mandating Super-PACs and other outside groups report their donors.

Among the bill’s co-sponsors are Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Angus King, I-Maine, and Jon Tester, D-Mont. It has support from all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has said Republicans are unified in opposition to many of the provisions contained in the Democratic plan, including added campaign finance disclosures and automatic voter registration.

Despite the filing of the slimmed-down Freedom to Vote Act, several Democrats said Tuesday they also want the Senate to pass the more comprehensive John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that passed the House before the summer recess.

The fight over ballot restrictions gained new momentum this past summer as Democratic lawmakers in Texas fled the state for 38 days to delay action on a slate of new limits on voting there. Most wound up in Washington, D.C. where they repeatedly pushed for congressional action.

Republican legislatures around the country have been seeking to tighten voting rules, arguing the changes are needed for election security following former President Donald Trump’s continued false claims that he was denied a re-election victory because of voting fraud.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 30 laws across 18 states have been passed this year that restrict access to the ballot box.

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