The Senate Republicans have stopped debate on a comprehensive overhaul of the way elections are run in America. Representative Democrats pushed the bill, arguing that it was necessary to combat a series of GOP laws that have tightened voting rules in the US.
Take a look at the past, see what’s in, and then consider what’s next.
WHY DID THE SENATE REPUBLICANS LOCK THE BILL
Republicans have been opposed to Democratic efforts at overhauling elections in the U.S. for many years. They claim that the proposed reforms are more about ensuring Democratic wins than fairness in voting. They point out that the Democrats had introduced the overhaul two years before the 2020 election and claim the bill amounts to a federal takingover of elections. These elections are managed by local and state election offices. The Congressional Republicans claim that the increased voter turnout in 2020’s election proves that reforms are unnecessary. However, state legislators have cited unsubstantiated claims that voter fraud has been a reason to tighten election rules and increase oversight at the local and state levels.
WHAT DO THE BILL DO?
The For The People Act, also known as the For The People Act would establish minimum voting standards in the United States and make Election Day a federal holiday. All states must offer automatic voter registration, and at least 15 days early voting. Some states have this already, while others don’t. Democrats also argue that federal standards will reduce confusion among the public. The standards will also reduce the impact of state laws that create barriers for voters, according to Democrats.
The bill does not only address election issues. The bill’s 888 pages contain dozens of provisions, including an expansion of public funds for campaigns and a revamping of redistricting. It also includes ethics reforms and a wide range of other provisions. It was written when Democrats were not in power and was more of a statement about priorities than legislation that would be enacted. It has been revised several times, and there are more to come.
Is THIS THE END OUR ROAD?
Democratic leaders anticipated Tuesday’s vote, and they will continue to push for the bill’s passage. In remarks following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated that “In the fight to vote rights, this vote was not the end point.” They are limited by the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to pass most legislation. However, the Senate is split 50-50. The fight now turns to whether Democrats can agree on voting legislation being so important that it is worth changing or putting aside the filibuster.
They will also continue to seek public support for their efforts. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is the chair of the powerful Rules Committee, announced Tuesday that she will hold a hearing in Georgia to discuss a law earlier this year approved by the GOP-dominated Legislature. This has raised concerns about increased hurdles for voters as well as the possibility for partisan interference in local election administration.
ARE DEMOCRATS UNIT?
Two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Silena from Arizona and Joe Manchin from West Virginia, said they opposed the elimination of filibuster rules. Sinema supports the voting reform bill, but she argued in an opinion piece that the rule “compels moderation” and “helps protect the country against wild swings.”
Manchin, originally opposed to the bill, has now created a revised version that would eliminate some of the most controversial provisions, such as the same-day voter registration option and public financing option. Manchin’s proposal calls for a national identification requirement. This is something Democrats have never done before but seem open to considering. This requirement would be less stringent than those pushed in some states by Republicans and allow voters to present non-photo ID, such as a utility bill.
What CHANGES DO DEMOCRATS CONSIDERING FOR?
The congressional Democrats are still discussing how to proceed. Leaders have indicated privately that Sinema, Manchin and the president don’t want to eliminate the rule. However, they do not oppose changing it. In addition, President Joe Biden indicated a willingness to think about a change. Democratic leaders believe there’s an opportunity to improve the process, and they are considering three possible changes.
If they wish to block any legislation from being voted on, then 41 senators must be present.
–create a narrow exception for the rule to remain in effect for legislation relating to voting and elections. This is a common practice. This is a precedent. In order to allow the majority of executive branch nominees to get confirmed with a simple majority in the past, Democrats relaxed the rule. Republicans also eliminated the filibuster to confirm Supreme Court nominees under the Trump administration.
•require opposition lawmakers to speak continuously on the floor to stop the legislation moving forward –a version of a talking filibuster which would include a gradual decrease in the number senators who can block a vote — beginning at 60 and ending with a simple majority over a time period of weeks.
WHAT DO THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION DO NEXT?
Biden has said he will wage the “fight for his presidency” to ensure Americans have access to the vote, but he isn’t yet at the forefront of this fight. Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States, has been leading the effort. She spoke with legislators and other voting rights advocates in recent weeks. In Texas, she met with Democratic state legislators who oppose any GOP efforts to tighten voting regulations.
Harris met virtually on Wednesday with representatives from various voting and civil rights organizations. She said that her previous visit to the Senate chamber to preside at the vote was “to make clear that our administration takes this issue very seriously, and we are paying close eye and will be actively involved.”
Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, stated that Biden will make use of the “bully pulpit” of the presidency in the coming weeks to emphasize the importance of voting rights.
Psaki stated that there are many avenues to work across the nation — with activists, states, and legislators — using all the levers at our disposal to increase access and improve voting access across the country.