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Democrats to Propose New Voting Rights Bill

  • September 14, 2021

The new bill, called the Freedom to Vote Act, drops some contentious elements of the initial bill, such as restructuring the Federal Election Commission and publicly financing congressional elections on a wide scale — a proposal ridiculed by Republicans. But it retains provisions to establish nationwide standards for ballot access, a response to voting restrictions that Republican legislatures have enacted around the country since the 2020 elections.

It would create a voter identification requirement, something that many Democrats have vehemently opposed. But the requirement would be far less onerous than the ones some states have tried to impose, allowing voters to present a variety of identification cards and documents in paper and digital forms. Democrats say the new Republican laws are particularly aimed at discouraging participation by minority and lower-income voters who might not have the specific identification some states require.

The revised measure would also require that states allow at minimum 15 consecutive days of early voting, including two weekends; ensure that all voters can request to vote by mail; establish new automatic voter registration programs; and make Election Day a national holiday.

It would mandate that states follow specific criteria when drawing new congressional districting lines to reduce partisan gerrymandering and would force disclosure of donors to so-called dark money groups. It would also establish new federal protections from partisan interference for state and local election administrators.

“Following the 2020 elections, in which more Americans voted than ever before, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who leads the Rules Committee, which is responsible for election oversight. “These attacks demand an immediate federal response.”

Mr. Manchin had balked at the original legislation and offered elements of a voting bill he would back, prompting his negotiations with Ms. Klobuchar and other Democratic senators: Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Alex Padilla of California and Raphael Warnock of Georgia. Senator Angus King, independent of Maine, also participated.

While Democrats cheered the new version, they also recognized that they were very unlikely to attract sufficient Republican support to break a filibuster against any voting bill. With Democrats controlling 50 votes in the Senate, they would need 10 Republicans to join them in support of the legislation to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster, an exceedingly unlikely scenario. That means that they would have to unite to force a change to Senate rules governing the filibuster if the legislation were to have any chance.

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