Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are urging congressional leaders to embark on a broad rewrite of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a bipartisan move that underscores the difficulties Democrats face in getting their own sweeping voting bill through Congress.
In a letter to House and Senate leaders in both parties, the two said reshaping the landmark 1965 law, which was designed to secure the right of minorities to vote, is the best way to secure a consensus on ballot-box inequities. They noted the law has been reworked five other times since its initial passage, always with broad bipartisan majorities.
“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 two senators wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Their move comes just days after a Senate panel deadlocked, 9-9, on a vote to advance alternative voting rights legislation drafted by Democrats, with McConnell leading a day-long effort to make the case against legislation he called a partisan power-grab. Schumer has the ability to push it out to the Senate floor, but with the chamber split 50-50 between the parties he can’t succeed without Manchin’s support.
That bill, S.1, is a high priority for Democrats in the face of efforts by Republican-dominated state legislatures -- spurred in part by former President Donald Trump’s claims about fraud in the 2020 election -- to enact ballot restrictions. It would set national standards for election laws, including no-excuse mail-in voting and automatic voter registration, require additional campaign finance disclosures and impose new ethics provisions for all three branches of federal government, among other changes.
Manchin in March made clear he wasn’t on board with the bill, telling reporters that any ballot legislation must be bipartisan to be accepted as legitimate by U.S. voters. He said last week that he instead supports legislation that would restore a portion of the Voting Rights Act that requires some states viewed as having a pattern of discriminatory practices to get federal pre-clearance before making changes to their voting laws. Manchin said, though, that he wants all 50 states to be subjected to the scrutiny.
In their letter to leaders, Manchin and Murkowski pointed to the pre-clearances as an important part of any broader Voting Rights Act rewrite. Such DOJ reviews were ruled unconstitutional in 2013 in a Supreme Court case, Shelby v. Holder, with the high court ruling the formula used to determine which states could be subject to review was outdated.
Supporters of the legislation Democrats are pressing for this year, also called the For the People Act, want to use the bill as a spark for Democrats to do away with the Senate’s filibuster rule, which allows the minority party to block most legislation by requiring a 60 votes to allow debate to go forward. But Manchin and fellow Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they oppose getting rid of the rule.
Since the November election, more than 360 bills in at least 47 states have been introduced to restrict voting access according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank. Five have already been signed into law.
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