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Every Senate Republican just rejected a bill to protect voting rights

The Freedom to Vote Act would block a number of voter suppression laws — but Senate Republicans just killed it.

By Emily Singer - October 20, 2021
Mitch McConnell

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a voting rights bill that would have thwarted a number of GOP-driven voter suppression laws across the country.

Wednesday’s vote on the Freedom to Vote Act — which was merely to start debate on the legislation — fell far shy of the 60 votes necessary to break the filibuster. All 50 Republican senators voted against the legislation, while 49 Democratic senators voted for it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer changed his vote to a “no” for procedural purposes, allowing him to bring the bill up for a vote again in the future.

“I want to be clear about what just happened on the floor of the Senate. Every single Republican senator just blocked this chamber from having a debate, simply a debate, on protecting Americans’ right to vote in free and fair elections,” Schumer said in a speech after the vote failed.

The Freedom to Vote Act is a pared-back version of H.R. 1, the sweeping voting rights bill that House Democrats passed earlier this year but that Senate Republicans blocked in June.

Democrats sought to pass the bill to fight the hundreds of voter suppression laws GOP-controlled state legislatures passed across the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s election loss in 2020.

Like H.R. 1, the Freedom to Vote Act would require all states to have automatic voter registration, allow two weeks of early voting, and let anyone who prefers to vote by mail to do so. It would also make Election Day a federal holiday and restore voting rights to those who have completed felony sentences.

But the revised bill doesn’t include all of H.R. 1’s provisions. It cuts back on public financing for congressional campaigns and also eliminates some changes meant to curb dysfunction at the Federal Election Commission. The new bill also includes a provision that would standardize what documents can be used to satisfy voter ID laws.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) championed the legislation —  a compromise bill made between him and other Senate Democrats — in the hope he could garner enough Republican support to overcome the filibuster.

But none of his GOP colleagues voted for the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in September called the voting rights legislation “a solution in search of a problem.”

And with the Senate filibuster in place, it remains unlikely that any voting rights bill would pass in this Congress.

The fact that Republicans won’t even allow debate on the bill on the Senate floor is likely to set off another loud cry to eliminate the filibuster.

Some senators have already called for the filibuster’s elimination since the vote.

The right to vote is the beating heart of our democracy. The filibuster isn’t even part of the Constitution — in fact, the founders specifically rejected requiring super-majorities to pass bills,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted after the vote. “We can’t let Mitch McConnell have veto power over access to the ballot box.”

Manchin has been adamant that the filibuster is necessary and that he does not support eliminating it. However, the Washington Post reports that his failure to get even a single GOP vote for his compromise bill will put pressure on him to change his mind on the Senate procedural hurdle.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, called the GOP’s blocking of the voting rights legislation “unconscionable.”

“The right to vote — to vote freely, to vote fairly, and to have your vote counted — is fundamental,” Biden said in a statement. “It should be simple and straightforward. Let there be a debate and let there be a vote.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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