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Senate Democrats will force a vote on rolling back the filibuster rules in an effort to pass sweeping voting reform legislation in the coming days.
While Republicans have balked at the brazen attempt to unravel the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, Democrats say the two voting rights bills at the center of the effort are so important to democracy they warrant upending long-standing Senate rules.
“All of us in this chamber must make a choice about how we will do our part to preserve our democratic republic,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday. “We can’t be satisfied in thinking that democracy will win out in the end if we are not willing to put work in to defend it.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., waits to speak during an event to mark one year since the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)
Democrats say the two bills are urgent in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol to stop President Biden’s election certification, former President Trump’s continued false claims he won the 2020 election, and “voter suppression” laws in GOP-led states to tighten election rules.
Republicans, however, say the proposed laws amount to a radical federal takeover of local elections and have warned ending the filibuster would amount to a shutdown of the Senate.
“A year ago during the insurrection, people tried to break the Electoral College, now Senate Democrats are trying to break the Senate,” Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday.
Here’s a look at the two voting bills that Senate Democrats want to pass.
The Freedom to Vote Act
The Freedom to Vote Act is authored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and is co-sponsored by all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
No Republicans have signed on, as they’ve dubbed it a far-left attempt to take over state elections.
The legislation would set new national standards on how to run elections, including automatic voter registration and online voter registration, same-day voter registration and ensuring at least two weeks of early voting for federal elections with two weekends. It sets minimum standards for vote-by-mail and drop box access.
The legislation would make Election Day a new federal holiday, allow felons who have been released from prison to vote in federal elections and set limits on removing people from the voting rolls.
Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have said they don’t want to undo the filibuster. (Getty Images/Reuters)
One provision that is troubling to Republicans is the legislation would require states with existing voter ID laws to accept a broad set of identification cards, including utility bills, student IDs, state hunting or fishing licenses, debit cards, health insurance cards and bank statements. Voters who show up to the polls without any such ID would still be allowed to vote provisionally, subject to their identity being verified later.
The bill outlaws spreading false information designed to stop or impede a person from exercising the right to vote and establishes a new crime against hindering, interfering or preventing another person from registering or voting.
The legislation also targets election integrity, by requiring states to use voting systems that use paper ballots and establishing standards for voting machine security measures.
The Freedom to Vote Act also takes aim at partisan gerrymandering by setting standards for states to follow when redrawing congressional districts. It also requires more disclosure in political donations and advertising funding.
Finally, the bill would allow states to opt in to a new public financing system for House elections to encourage grassroots donations. The voluntary program sets a 6:1 match for each small-dollar donation of $200 or less a candidate receives.
The bill says no taxpayer dollars will be used for the congressional public financing system. Rather, it will be paid for through a “State Election Assistance and Innovation Trust Fund” that is funded by a new 4.75% surcharge on criminal and civil penalties and settlements that corporations pay to the U.S. government.
John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
Democrats also want to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Sinema was among the original 49 members of the Democratic caucus that backed the legislation, while Manchin in November signed on to a compromise version of the legislation that picked up support from one Republican: Sen. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.
The legislation is named for the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who fought for civil rights and voting rights throughout his life.
In this Feb. 15, 2011, file photo, President Obama presents a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
The legislation is the response to the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision that stripped the pre-clearance provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that required all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, to get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections.
The divided court in a 5-4 decision said the law’s provision for pre-clearance is unconstitutional because it relied on 40-year-old data and does not account for racial progress and other changes in U.S. society.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would set new criteria to determine which states and jurisdictions must receive pre-clearance from the Department of Justice before changing voting laws. Democrats say the law is needed to combat states that have “unleashed a torrent of voter suppression schemes that have systematically disenfranchised tens of thousands of American voters.”
The new criteria would require a state to be subjected to pre-clearance for 10 years if during the last 25 years it has 15 or more voting rights violations, or 10 or more violations if at least one of which was committed by the state itself.
Democrats say that the bill would also make it easier for the Justice Department to send election observers and for courts to block election law changes for violating the constitutional protections guaranteeing voting rights for all U.S. citizens.
Republicans said the legislation would weaponize the Department of Justice to target state-led actions to secure the vote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.