Majority of Americans side with White House in push to protect voting rights

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Fully 60% of voters see expanding voting access in federal elections as an 'important' or 'top' priority, according to a new poll.

In his staunchest defense of voting rights to date, President Joe Biden blasted Republicans for obstructing access to the ballot box and called on Senate Democrats to eliminate the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.

"I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote. Let the majority prevail," Biden said in a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday. "And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this."

New polling from Morning Consult/Politico released Wednesday shows American voters widely support the policies Biden is championing.

Democrats hope to pass two bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to protect Americans' right to vote ahead of the 2022 midterm elections that will determine which party controls Congress.

The first bill would make sweeping changes to make it easier for Americans to vote. If passed into law, the measure would make Election Day a national holiday, automatically register voters nationwide, allow same-day voter registration, expand access to vote-by-mail and early voting, restore voting rights to those with felony convictions who’ve finished their sentences, abolish partisan gerrymandering, and attempt to remove dark money from elections.

The second bill, which would fully restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is named after former Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the civil rights icon who died in 2020. For almost 50 years, states with a history of voting discrimination needed to seek federal approval before they could modify their voting laws — a process known as "preclearance." But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority struck down this key part of the landmark law, making it easier for Republican-controlled states to further restrict voting rights.

Republicans in Congress strongly oppose both bills. On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued that expanding voting rights is "a manufactured problem." But most Americans seem to disagree with Graham and his party. Fully 60% of voters see expanding voting access in federal elections as an "important" or "top" priority, according to the Morning Consult/Politico poll.

Further, 65% of poll respondents said they support expanding access to early voting; 64% want to ban partisan gerrymandering; 61% support making Election Day a federal holiday; 56% support same-day voter registration; 55% support expanding access to voting by mail; 54% support "allowing U.S. citizens who have been convicted of a criminal offense to vote in elections for federal office unless they are actively serving a felony sentence at the time of the election"; and 51% support expanding automatic voter registration.

Sixty-three percent of voters support reinstating the preclearance requirement so that states need to get permission from the Department of Justice or a U.S. district court before changing their laws. In the past year alone, 19 states with GOP-majority legislatures put new laws on the books that would make it harder for Americans to vote. Such laws have been shown to unfairly target Black voters, which some have argued is a modern equivalent of Jim Crow laws.

"In the days that followed John Lewis's death, there was an outpouring of praise and support across the political spectrum," Biden said. "But as we stand here today, it isn't enough just to praise his memory. We must translate eulogy into action. We need to follow [in] John Lewis's footsteps. We need to support the bill in his name.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) plans to bring both bills to a vote by Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17 at the latest.

In the absence of any Republican support, Senate Democrats' best chance to pass the two voting rights bills would be to do away with the filibuster, which requires the Senate to meet a 60-vote threshold to move forward with most measures that are up for debate rather than achieve a 51-vote simple majority.

Though he has previously supported the filibuster, Biden reversed course in his speech yesterday, saying, "The filibuster has been weaponized and abused."

"When it comes to protecting majority rule in America, the majority should rule in the United States Senate," Biden said. "I make this announcement with careful deliberation, recognizing the fundamental right to vote is the right from which all other rights flow."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.