Senate Democrats are proposing new legislation to overhaul voting laws after months of discussions to get all 50 of their members behind a single bill, allowing their caucus to speak with one voice on the issue even though it stands virtually no chance of becoming law.
The proposal – announced in a statement by a group of Senate Democrats on Tuesday – comes in the aftermath of their party’s failed effort to open debate on the issue in June. Even though they unified behind the procedural vote at the time, Senate Democrats were not on the same page over the policy, kicking off months of talks to get the party’s factions behind the bill that they will propose on Tuesday.
Yet the new proposal will almost certainly fall well short of the 60 votes needed to break a GOP-led filibuster. Plus Democrats lack the votes to change the rules and weaken the filibuster as many in their party want them to do, meaning the plan is expected to stall when the Senate casts a procedural vote on the matter next week.
The proposal, which will be introduced by Senate Rules Chair Amy Klobuchar, also has the endorsement of Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who had been the lone member of his caucus to oppose his party’s more sweeping overhaul – known as the For the People Act – which passed the House earlier this year.
The other Democratic senators who are co-sponsors include Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Alex Padilla of California and Raphael Warnock, the Georgia freshman who faces a potentially tough reelection fight next year. Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has also signed onto the bill known as the Freedom to Vote Act, according to the statement.
The new bill would make it easier to register to vote, make Election Day a public holiday, ensure states have early voting for federal elections and allow all voters to request mail-in ballots. In addition, the measure would bolster security on voting systems, overhaul how House districts are redrawn and impose new disclosures on donations to outside groups active in political campaigns.
Democrats say the legislation is needed to overcome the onslaught of GOP state laws to clamp down on voting access, an effort they say has intensified in the aftermath of the lies pushed by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
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“Following the 2020 elections in which more Americans voted than ever before, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country,” Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said in a statement. “These attacks demand an immediate federal response.”
But Republicans say the Democrats’ plans have amounted to a heavy-handed partisan overreach by the federal government to tip the scales of close races.
In the face of the GOP opposition, liberals have pushed Manchin to agree to a “carveout” – and allow for a change to Senate rules so such voting legislation can advance with a simple majority of 51 votes. But Manchin, along with a handful of other Democrats, has long opposed such a carveout, worrying it would lead to a slippery slope and ultimately kill a tool meant to protect the minority party’s rights.
“The filibuster is permanent,” Manchin said Monday.
Asked how he plans to get the bill passed given that he won’t change Senate filibuster rules, Manchin told CNN on Tuesday that his plan is this: “It’s to get 10 Republicans” in the 50-50 Senate.
“I’m talking to reasonable Republicans and friends of mine who understand we need guardrails,” Manchin said.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.