Push for Massive Voting Rights Legislation Stumbles in the Senate

By Shani Saxon Jun 01, 2021

Political pressure is building on Senate Democrats to take action as Republican-led states across the country continue to pass voter suppression laws that disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. Democrats, however, have failed to unite over a strategy to overcome Senate opposition to the For the People Act, or Senate Bill 1, “the most sweeping elections overhaul in generations,” according to The New York Times

The landmark bill, which passed in the House on March 3, would “curb voter suppression and make it easier for all Americans to register to vote and cast a ballot,” according to The Brennan Center. It would also “outlaw partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts” and “overhaul our campaign finance laws to amplify the voices of ordinary Americans.” 

The measure faces an almost certain filibuster in the Senate, with Republicans firmly united in their opposition to the legislation. This means that the only way Democrats can likely prevail is by destroying the filibuster rule, which demands at least 60 votes in order to dismiss any senator’s objections. Removing the rule would allow Democrats to pass the For the People Act on a simple majority, party-line vote, The Times reports. Killing the filibuster won’t be an easy task, but Democrats insist that failure “is not an option.”

According to The Times:

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the Democrats’ decisive swing vote, has repeatedly pledged to protect the filibuster and is refusing to sign on to the voting rights bill. He calls the legislation “too darn broad” and too partisan, despite endorsing such proposals in past sessions. Other Democrats also remain uneasy about some of its core provisions. 

A Democratic senator who spoke to The Times and asked to remain anonymous said that the “path to passage is as narrow as it is rocky, but Democrats have no choice but to die trying to get across.” Failure to push the bill through would mean that strict voter suppression laws in 14 states including Florida and Georgia would take effect without any legal challenges, further marginalizing BIPOC voters. 

If the legislation passes, Democrats could overrule the states and create national mandates that they establish “automatic voter registration, hold regular no-excuse early and mail-in voting,” according to The Times. States would also be required to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions who have served their terms.  

“At the end of the day, every single senator is going to have to make a choice if they are going to vote to uphold the right to vote or uphold an arcane Senate rule,” Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, told The Times. “That is the situation that creates the pressure to act.”