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What the Voting Rights Act entails and why Republicans (and some Democrats) don’t want to pass it

Another Martin Luther King Day has passed without voting reform, but if the Democrats are successful, it won’t be for long.

Congressional Democrats have been pushing for years to expand voting access with little success and had hoped to secure a package of laws named after civil rights icon and U.S. Representative John Lewis by this MLK Day.

Those hopes were dashed when senators postponed a scheduled MLK Day vote due to a massive snowstorm in Washington and Hawaii, Sen. Brian Schatz went down with Covid.

The Senate is back in session on Tuesday, where Democrats hope to give their ballot program another chance — though their program faces big hurdles from right and left. So what are they trying to do, and why are Republicans and some Democrats opposing their efforts to reform elections?

What’s in the voting record?

Last week, in a party-line vote, House Democrats adopted a package of electoral reforms which combined two previous efforts: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Taken together, they would mark the biggest change in elections in nearly a decade.

The package would set federal minimum requirements for early and mail-in ballots, prevent GOP laws that restrict the right to vote, allow same-day voter registration and make Election Day a national holiday. More importantly, the proposal would reauthorize some of the existing 1965 voting rights, allowing the federal government to consider changes to election law in states with a history of racist disenfranchisement. This provision, known as judicial preclearance, was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.

Who pays the bills?

Activists and nearly all Democratic lawmakers in Washington want the bills passed.

On Tuesday, Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights hero, spoke out in favor of reform, warning that without them, Republicans across the country are passing laws “with knife-like precision” that “cut black and brown voters”. out of the process.

The GOP has passed at least 34 laws in 19 states in the past year that make it harder to vote, especially for people of color, according to the Brennan Center think tank.

On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was vital to get the voting rights bills passed in the Senate because ‘nothing less is at stake than our democracy’ , given Republican efforts to “suppress the vote…cancel the election, it’s just a matter of doing it. a lot of things are barriers to participation.

Who opposes them?

Virtually all Republicans in Congress oppose the bills. They framed the measures as a Democratic “power grab” and an undue increase in federal power, rather than a way to increase civic participation.

“It’s not about ‘voting rights,'” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in December, “it’s just a power grab.”

Representing Rodney Davis, a Republican from Illinois, said after the House version passed last week, some Republican states are already outpacing their Democratic peers on issues such as in-person voting days.

“It’s not about the right to vote. It’s about power and control,” Mr. Davis said. Donald Trump, the party’s standard bearer, put it differently. always opposed to expanding access to the vote, stating clearly that he was concerned that greater access to the vote would mean more votes for Democrats.

In March 2020, in the chaotic early days of the pandemic, Democrats sought to expand access to mail-in voting and increase state funding to protect voters from Covid. Mr. Trump has thrown himself into the effort.

“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, voting levels that if you ever accepted that, you would never have a Republican elected again in this country,” he said on Fox News at the time.

Since then, he has spent the months since the 2020 election spreading a false conspiracy that widespread voter fraud in largely non-white Democratic cities cost him the election. This theory, which has never been proven by evidence in numerous lawsuits, in recounts or elsewhere, has also been echoed by GOP legislatures, which have launched highly partisan audits of vote totals in states like the United States. Arizona, who have already certified their election. results.

Could Democrats pass the ballot bills by eliminating the filibuster?

Many Democrats in Congress are pushing to change or eliminate the filibuster, a parliamentary delay tactic in the Senate that means almost all major bills require 60 out of 100 votes to pass rather than the simple majority described in the constitution. . The filibuster was frequently used by segregationists to block civil rights reforms.

Last week, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York said the filibuster is “dripping into racist history.”

But moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema both opposed changing the rule.

“Ending the filibuster would be the easy way out,” Mr Manchin said last week. “I cannot support such a perilous path for the nation when elected leaders are sent to Washington to unite our country by putting aside politics and parties.”

Ms Sinema added that she supported the voting rights bill sent by the House, but opposed amending the filibuster, virtually the only way the reform package would pass in the current political climate .

“We need a sustained and robust effort to defend American democracy, an effort from Democrats, Republicans, Independents and all Americans and communities across this country,” she said. last week, adding, “And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that aggravate the underlying disease of division that infects our country.”

Martin Luther King III condemned the senators, comparing them to ‘white moderates’ whom his father called the ‘stumbling block in the march to freedom’ who are ‘more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice “.

“He was surrounded by people who told him to wait for a more convenient time and to use more pleasant methods,” Mr King said. “Fifty-nine years later, it’s the same old song and dance of Senators Manchin and Sinema.”


The Independent Gt

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