Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski have made a bipartisan appeal to Congress to reauthorise the Voting Rights Act, a measure that has total support from congressional Democrats but could face Republican roadblocks.
The conservative Democrat from West Virginia has joined Republicans to object to the White House-backed For The People Act, which Democrats and voting rights advocates have warned is an urgent and necessary step to combat a wave of suppressive voting laws and protect Americans’ access to the ballot.
Instead, the two senators have urged House and Senate leaders to take up the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a restoration of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that prohibits racial discrimination at the polls. Lawmakers have proposed naming after the late congressman. Democrats universally support the measure.
A restored Voting Rights Act would preserve elements of the landmark civil rights law that were rolled back by the US Supreme Court in 2013, including a provision to require states with a record of voting rights discrimination to receive federal approval before making changes to elections laws.
Mr Manchin has also supported extending that federal oversight to all states.
“Protecting Americans’ access to democracy has not been a partisan issue for the past 56 years, and we must not allow it to become one now,” the senators wrote in a letter to Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
“Inaction is not an option,” they said. “Congress must come together – just as we have done time and again – to reaffirm our longstanding bipartisan commitment to free, accessible, and secure elections for all. We urge you to join us in calling for the bipartisan reauthorisation of the Voting Rights Act through regular order. We can do this. We must do this.”
Neither senator supports the For the People Act, a sweeping enhancement of voting rights and campaign finance reform measures that passed the House of Representatives in March. A senate version of the bill was deadlocked by a party-line vote of 9-9 in the Senate Rules Committee last week.
The Senate reauthorised the Voting Rights Act in 2006 by a vote of 98-0. But now, after losing the White House and majority control of Congress, Republicans have sought to strip access to the ballot with a partisan attack on the results of the 2020 presidential election, mired in false election fraud narratives promoted by former president Donald Trump and legislated in bills drafted by right-wing think tanks.
Democrats have hoped that the bill could serve as an antidote to the dozens of GOP-sponsored voting restrictions proposed in nearly every state.
Mr Manchin and Republicans have also opposed calls to reform or break the filibuster and move legislation by a simple majority vote, effectively dooming the For the People Act and Mr Manchin’s bipartisan bill unless 10 Republican senators join in to clear the 60-vote threshold in the evenly divided upper chamber on Congress.
Senator Schumer has repeatedly said “failure is not an option” when it comes to the For the People Act.
The measure proposes 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 restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people, create independent redistricting commissions that redraw congressional districts in an effort to combat partisan-driven gerrymandering, and expose “dark money” groups and super PAC money, as well as funding sources behind political ads on Facebook and Twitter, among other measures aimed at campaign finance reform and transparency.
Senator McConnell has called it a “one party takeover of our political system.”