A group of Senate Democrats has released another voting rights bill following a months-long effort to unite lawmakers behind an antidote to state-level, Republican-led restrictions on ballot access ahead of critical midterm elections and a redistricting cycle that could redraw political boundaries for the next decade.
The latest proposal – the Freedom to Vote Act – builds off a framework from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who joined universal Republican opposition to the For The People Act, a sweeping expansion of voting rights that faced a filibuster blockade in the evenly divided Senate.
A group of Democrats have struck a deal with Senator Manchin, who joined seven other lawmakers – including four progressive Democrats – to draft the proposal, a slimmed-down version of the For The People Act proposing nationwide standards for early and mail-in voting, safeguards against partisan gerrymandering, automatic voter registration, and the creation of Election Day as a public holiday, among other measures.
It also includes Senator Manchin’s demands for nationwide voter ID standards, allowing voters to “present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form,” according to a statement from lawmakers.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill could be ready for a vote as soon as next week.
“Republicans’ refusal to work with us is no excuse for not getting something done,” he said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “This is a good proposal, one that nobody in this chamber should oppose. My colleague, Senator Manchin, is working with Republicans to secure support.”
Senators Amy Klobuchar, Tim Kaine, Jeff Merkley, Alex Padilla and Raphael Warnock were also involved with the legislation.
While Senate Democrats pursue bipartisan support in the chamber, where the bill will need 60 votes to pass, it is likely to face another GOP stonewall.
House Democrats have passed the For The People Act as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a restoration of the landmark 1965 civil rights law, but Senate Republicans have vowed to prevent both bills from passing Congress.
GOP lawmakers have accused Democrats of staging a federal “takeover” of elections even as they endorse partisan laws that roll back voting access and consolidate electoral oversight – including the power to toss out votes – in GOP-dominated state legislatures.
“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,” Senator Klobuchar said in a statement. “These attacks demand an immediate federal response.”
Texas recently joined at least 18 states that have enacted more than 30 new laws combined that restrict voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.
Those laws follow a coordinated wave of nearly 400 bills filed by GOP lawmakers in nearly every state to roll back options to vote by mail, impose strict voter ID requirements, cut back on early voting hours and criminalise handing out food and water in long lines at polling places, among other measures.
A parallel effort has seen more than 200 bills in 41 states that would give lawmakers in Republican-dominated state legislatures more authority over the electoral process, including whether to count ballots at all, according to the States United Democracy Center.