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Activists try to keep up pressure to pass elections and voting bills

Kate Ackley, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

Groups pushing for voting rights and elections legislation in the Senate are planning a sustained campaign over the coming weeks, aiming to put the issue top of mind for Democrats, even as other matters have dominated in the chamber.

A broad coalition of liberal organizations will organize regular demonstrations outside the White House, other rallies and a multimodal relay from West Virginia to the U.S. Capitol. The effort is part of a push to keep the measures high on the agenda as negotiations over a reconciliation package, an infrastructure bill and raising the nation’s debt limit have taken center stage.

“We’re going to keep up and escalate pressure throughout this month and throughout November,” said Jana Morgan, director of the Declaration for American Democracy Coalition, an umbrella group behind the advocacy push.

The group has been pushing for passage of two bills. One is a scaled-back version of a House-passed measure to overhaul elections and campaign finance laws. Dubbed the Freedom to Vote Act, it was endorsed by West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III. The other is the Senate version of a House-passed bill to restore major sections of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court scrapped in a 2013 decision, Shelby County v. Holder.

A Senate Judiciary panel’s hearing on that bill, named for the late Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, was interrupted last week by votes and caucus meetings over the debt limit.

Republicans, led in opposition in the Senate by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have attacked the measure as a power grab by Democrats that would let the federal government usurp local and state control over running elections. McConnell has called the bill “a solution in search of a problem” that was driven by “coordinated lies about commonsense election laws that various states have passed.” Despite Manchin’s self-proclaimed overtures to Republicans, none has endorsed the legislation.


Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has said he will bring the Freedom to Vote bill to the floor for a procedural vote, perhaps as soon as next week, although the situation remains in flux and subject to other priorities. A similar procedural effort in June to begin debate on the House-passed version of the bill, ostensibly so Manchin could try to amend it, was defeated in a 50-50 vote when 60 votes were needed to end a filibuster.

Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, which supports the bills, said proponents are employing a “slew of tactics” to garner attention. She said getting the legislation through the chamber remained a “major priority” for Democratic leaders.

But Democratic lawmakers are also focused on a sweeping tax and social programs package that would move under the reconciliation process so that it could pass along party lines. They’re also dealing with internal disagreement over House passage of an infrastructure package, which senators passed with bipartisan support.

“There are so many moving pieces,” Gilbert said.


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