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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Voting Rights Legislation Stalls in Senate

For the second time in as many months, the Senate on Tuesday failed to garner enough votes to proceed to a debate on a piece of legislation, falling 10 votes short of the supermajority required to advance a bill that would reshape U.S. elections.

WASHINGTON (CN) — For the second time in as many months, the Senate on Tuesday failed to garner enough votes to proceed to a debate on a piece of legislation, falling 10 votes short of the supermajority required to advance a bill that would reshape U.S. elections.

Among broader reforms, the For the People Act – which passed the House in March – would have brought sunlight to campaign finance systems that allow anonymous donations to fund politicians and handed the reins of redistricting to an independent board. The bill included provisions for improving voting security with paper ballots by increasing oversight of election vendors and developing a national strategy to protect democratic institutions.

The first 300 pages of legislation were authored by the late congressman and civil rights champion John Lewis.

Lawmakers mustered 50 aye votes, but Republicans filibustered, unanimously voting to block the bill from proceeding to debate.

"Unfortunately, a Democratic stand to protect our democracy met a solid Republican wall of opposition," President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday. "Senate Republicans opposed even a debate — even considering —legislation to protect the right to vote and our democracy."

"It was the suppression of a bill to end voter suppression — another attack on voting rights that is sadly not unprecedented," he added.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has offered a compromise to the bill, which has drawn support from former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who championed voter registration efforts in Georgia in the 2020 election.

Manchin, who has at times been at odds with his party’s priorities — voting against a bill to form an investigative commission into the Jan. 6 insurrection — told reporters his eventual "yes" vote to proceed to debate Tuesday hinged on the promise that “reasonable changes” would be made to the underlying bill during debate.

“This process would allow both Republicans and Democrats to offer amendments to further change the bill,” Manchin said.

Earlier in the day, the Executive Office of the President on Tuesday released a statement saying the administration strongly supported the passage of the legislation and its provisions that would strengthen ethics rules for all three branches of government and “help to restore confidence in our government, and in democratic institutions.”

“Since H.R. 1 passed in the House of Representatives, the assault on our democracy has intensified,” the statement reads. “In state after state, new restrictive laws on voting, and efforts to replace non-partisan election administration with partisan processes designed to overturn the will of the voters have become more widespread.”

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chick Schumer said the issue of voting rights shouldn’t even be one of debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate as those rights are sacrosanct. But the passage of restrictive laws on voting rights, “in Republican legislature after legislature,” he said Monday, had spurred his decision to bring forth the debate vote on Tuesday.

Still, all 50 Republican senators voted the bill, which would have required states to automatically register eligible voters and offer same-day registration at polling locations nationwide, was not even worth discussing. Proceeding to debate in the Senate would have given members an opportunity to offer amendments and changes to the bill before requiring another 60-vote threshold to send the bill to the president’s desk.

On Tuesday, Schumer was more poignant in his rhetoric, reiterating how the lie of fraudulent elections snowballed into legislative action in 14 different state, beginning when former President Donald Trump — whom Schumer referred to as a “petulant child" — cried the 2020 election had been stolen from him.

“Mr. President, there is a rot, a rot, at the center of the modern Republican party,” Schumer said. “Donald Trump’s big lie has spread like cancer and threatens to envelope one of America’s major political parties. Even worse, it has poisoned our democracy, eroded faith in our elections, which is so detrimental to the future faith people need to have in this democracy and of course, it became the match that lit a wildfire of Republican voter suppression laws sweeping across the country.”

But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said from the floor Tuesday the Democrats’ bill would “let Washington bureaucrats direct federal dollars into politicians’’ campaign accounts,” among other objectionable provisions, in the view of his party.

“It’s a recipe for undermining confidence in our elections,” McConnell said. “For remaking our entire system of government to suit the preference of one far end of the political spectrum.”

Following the vote, Schumer decried Republicans as holding “voter suppression” as an “official platform of the Republican Party.” But the vote Tuesday was only the Democratic Party’s starting gun for the fight to improve voting rights.

“And make no mistake about it, it will not be the last time that voting rights comes up for debate in the Senate,” Schumer said. “Republicans may want to avoid the topic, hoping that their party’s efforts to suppress votes and defend the big lie will go unnoticed. Democrats will not allow that. Democrats will never let this voter suppression be swept under the rug.”

Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the vote Tuesday; her presence was necessary earlier in the day to be the deciding vote in a 50-50 tie to confirm Christopher Fonzone as general counsel for the Director of National Intelligence.

Last month, after more than a dozen hours of debate that stretched into the following morning, lawmakers couldn’t find the 60 votes needed to proceed to debate a bill forming a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection. The bipartisan commission would have had co-equal subpoena power and an equal makeup of senators from both parties.

Categories / Government, Politics

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