The latest on voting rights in the US

By Maureen Chowdhury, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 10:51 PM ET, Thu July 8, 2021
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6:56 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Civil rights leaders say now is the time for action and legislation to protect voting rights

From CNN's DJ Judd and Maegan Vazquez

Civil rights leaders, who met with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House Thursday, described the meeting as "the most sober conversation that we could possibly have as civil rights leaders."

Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, who serves as president of the National Urban League, warned of “the state of emergency that this country faces when it comes to democracy.” 

“Democracy is under vigorous vicious and sinister attack, beginning with the events of January 6 at the Capitol, and cascading like a tsunami through state legislatures across the nation that have a singular intent, which is to suppress deny and thwart the votes of Black people, brown people, young people, people who are disabled, and many other Americans live with great disadvantage in this country,” Morial said.

“We have met with numerous members of Congress, including Senator [Joe] Manchin, including with a number of Republican members of the United States Senate, we have, and we will not leave any stone unturned to save American democracy,” Morial said, adding the group “will speak with anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances, and we will take any actions, nonviolent, peaceful, and intelligent, to protect American democracy.”

Morial called efforts to curb voting rights “an attack on the very fundamental values that undergird this country,” and “an effort to impose a system of American apartheid.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton said their White House meeting, which went longer than its scheduled hourlong window, was “candid” and “no holds barred.”

He called the recent Supreme Court decision on voting rights “a blow of indescribable impact to the ability of having the right to vote, particularly to Black people and people of color.” 

“And it was our task to tell the President and vice president that, not only do we need the White House to do all it can, that we are going to build a movement around this country to resist that,” Sharpton said. “What is clearly a move to try and disenfranchise people of color from voting. The methodical way this has been laid out in these state legislatures and in their state legislation is geared toward robbing us of the vote.” 

Sharpton underscored to the administration that the effort to combat voter disenfranchisement needs to come from the ground up, not necessarily from the White House down. He also said the group needs to work in partnership with the White House on gun violence. 

“And that the President and vice president need to know that there needs to be – their understanding that a movement from the ground up is starting to be the only way that we can preserve our right to vote. HR 1 or Senate bill 1 and the John Lewis bill is mandatory, but at the same time, if we don’t put the street heat on it will not happen. So, we informed them, and they listened very patiently,” Sharpton said. “They asked questions. But we informed them that this is going to come, not from the White House down but from our houses up. Because this is our ability to preserve the right to vote. We also talked and mentioned about the need for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. I told the President that there is growing numbers of people in all communities that are concerned about what is going on with policing.” 

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told reporters she conveyed “the history of civil rights legislation in this country, of the Supreme Court's role in often eroding, civil rights statutes, dating back to the 19th century, dating back to the 1875 Civil Rights Act and the civil rights cases dating back to Plessy versus Ferguson, dating back to Mobile versus Bolton, the voting rights case in 1980 that Congress had to overturn in 1982 with the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.”

Ifill blasted efforts to curtail voting rights in Florida, Texas, and Georgia as “eroding the tools that we have in our hands at the state level by passing these voter suppression laws,” telling reporters, “What we see, what we emphasized to the President, is that our backs are against the wall.”

“This is the moment, there is no more time, we must have legislation, we must have the President use his voice, use his influence, use his power, and use what he clearly understands about this moment, and that was one of the encouraging things about this conversation — was that the President understands us to be in a moment of peril in terms of our democracy,” Ifill said. 

Pressed by reporters, the leaders agreed they’d be willing to also meet with Republican lawmakers to discuss their concerns.

“If Mitch McConnell will sit down with the eight of us, we’ll sit down with Mitch McConnell,” Morial said, adding, “Mitch McConnell has shared with me on numerous occasions the pride he felt that you know this standing as an intern in the Capitol when the Civil Rights Act was being signed, and we're prepared to meet with anyone at any time to discuss this,” prompting Sharpton to chime in, “We have already talked to several Republicans, and as Marc said, we’ll meet with anybody, but that will not stop the action.” 

Ifill added that in conversations with Republican Sen. Tim Scott, she believes Scott “still doesn't fully understand what the Civil Rights position is at this moment, about how serious we are about accountability and why, and what the people who were out in this country last year by the millions and around the world want — what those people want is a real transformative change.”

The group balked at the suggestion from one reporter that they looked somber following their meeting with Biden and Harris. 

“I just really, really want to be clear, and this is part of what I think it's critical for you to understand when we talk about the emergency that we're in, we're talking about the very future of the full citizenship and dignity of black people in this country,” Ifill told reporters. “It is the most sober conversation that we could possibly have as civil rights leaders, we are not going to come out happy-go-lucky out of any meeting where that is on the line. So, we come out of this meeting gratified first of all that the President invited us to talk about this issue. We're gratified that he recognizes the nature of the emergency, but we have no illusions about what we are up against.


5:42 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Biden is meeting with civil rights leaders on voting at the White House today

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

There are at least three main topics on the agenda for President Biden's meeting with civil rights leaders at the White House, according to a source familiar.

The topics include automatic voter registration at age of 18, making Election Day a federal holiday and organizing ongoing strategies to push back on new election laws across the US, the source said.

4:07 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Texas Republicans attempting to pass a modified version of state voting restriction bill

From CNN's Dianne Gallagher

Eric Gay/AP
Eric Gay/AP

Republican members of the Texas state legislature are attempting to pass a modified version of a voting restriction bill that was essentially blocked by Democrats during the legislature's regular session, CNN's Dianne Gallagher reports.

The original bill would have revived a slew of new voting restrictions. House Democrats walked off the state House floor, leaving majority Republicans without the quorum they needed to approve the bill, SB 7, before a midnight regular legislative session deadline — a move that triggered the election reform bill's expiration.

Now, Republicans are "starting all over again," but there are still similarities, Gallagher told CNN's Victor Blackwell and Alisyn Camerota

"At this point, today, there were two different bills that were introduced. One in the House, one in the Senate, and they've got to start from scratch going through committee meetings, voting them out of each chamber into the other and going through the whole process again. The content is pretty similar to that bill, SB7, that the Democrats killed by walking off the floor and denying quorum back at the end of the regular session," Gallagher said.

The latest measures still contain many of the original restrictions, but now exclude some of the more controversial efforts like:

  • Banning Sunday morning voting
  • Lowering the threshold for overturning an election

"Democrats see that as a small victory from their walkout, but say that altogether they feel like this is political theater at its finest," Gallagher said.

"Democrats are fired up. Everyone that I've spoken to have said they are willing to do anything. It is all on the table. Republicans, Victor, Allison, they're kind of embarrassed what happened last time around and say this is uniformity and security and this will get done this summer," she added.

2:06 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Texas House member on GOP push for election restrictions: "This is voter suppression reimagined"

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

The Texas State Capitol is seen on the first day of the 87th Legislative Special Session on July 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas.
The Texas State Capitol is seen on the first day of the 87th Legislative Special Session on July 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

Democratic Texas state Rep. Ron Reynolds slammed Texas Republicans' push to restrict voting rights during a 30-day special legislative session as "Jim Crow 2.0."

"Here we are in 2021 re-litigating the precious fundamental right to vote. We call this Jim Crow 2.0. This is voter suppression reimagined, and we cannot stand for it," Reynolds said to CNN's Ana Cabrera.

Reynolds was one of the Texas House Democrats to walk off the floor in May to block the Republican majority from having the quorum necessary to pass a measure that would've made casting mail-in ballots harder, banned drive-thru voting centers and made it easier for courts to overturn election results.

Republicans dropped some of the more controversial elements of the bill — including weekend early voting limits — but Reynolds says it doesn't necessarily signal to him that the GOP is willing to negotiate.

"The only reason why they dropped it [was] because we killed that bill. If we had not done that, that bill would've been law right now, banning souls to the polls and making it easier for them to throw out legitimate elections," said Reynolds, who is vice chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

"This is a solution in search of a problem. Our elections were secure. The problem that we have is a voter participation problem, not a problem with massive voter fraud," he said.

Reynolds also called for modernization of US voting systems and for Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

2:33 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Harris calls voting rights "the fight of our nation's lifetime"

From CNN's Allie Malloy

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks on voting rights Thursday at Howard University in Washington, DC, calling the issue “the fight of our nation’s lifetime.”

Harris announced $25 million in funding for an "I Will Vote Initiative," an effort by the Democratic National Committee to address voter suppression ahead of next year's midterm election.

"Think of our democracy as a call in response and every election, then, as an opportunity for the American people to be heard," Harris said.

"In 2020 you were heard loud and clear," Harris continued, "but there is another side to this story."

Harris cited how more than a dozen states across the country have passed restrictive voting laws and how hundreds more are being considered.

"These laws make it harder for you to vote because they don't want you to vote," she said.

"Regardless of who you are, where you live, what party you belong to, your vote matters," Harris said.

"Your vote is your power. And so I say, don't let anybody ever take your power from you... especially the power of your voice," she said in her remarks.

The vice president added, “We will not let anyone take away our power and that’s why we are all here together today. We’re not gonna let that happen. And so we need to fight back.” 

“This is the fight of our lifetime. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, we will always remember our history. We also understand their legacy and that we are a part of that and in that way there is a continuum. So I say in that context, this is the fight of our nation’s lifetime,” Harris said calling on people to register to vote.

 Watch here:

2:03 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Biden still intends to give a major speech on voting rights, White House says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden still wants to deliver a major speech about voting rights, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday, though she declined to provide specific details on when that would take place.  

“The President felt it was important to meet directly with civil rights leaders and talk to them about how we can work together to continue to push for federal legislation, continue to use every lever in the federal government to make voting more accessible across the country,” Psaki said ahead of Biden’s expected meeting with civil rights group leadership later Thursday. 

She continued, “Certainly he conveyed he wants to speak to the country about voting rights and how he's going to address it moving forward. I don't have any scheduling updates for you today but he certainly plans to – continues to plan to do that.”

The closed press meeting Thursday comes as Democrats clamor for him to do and say more on the issue after defeats in Congress and the Supreme Court.

2:01 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Vice president announces $25 million expansion of DNC's "I Will Vote" campaign

From CNN's Dan Merica, Betsy Klein and Arlette Saenz

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The announcement Vice President Kamala Harris made today at Howard University is a $25 million expansion of the Democratic National Committee's "I Will Vote" program.

"At the President and Vice President’s direction, the DNC will invest $25 million in voter education, voter protection, targeted voter registration, and technololgy [sic] to make voting more accessible and to fight back against Republicans’ unprecedented voter suppression efforts," the DNC said in a statement.

In her remarks, Harris reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to protecting and enhancing voting rights. “We are fighting back," she said.

Harris also addressed the expansion of the DNC “I Will Vote” initiative and discussed how voter mobilization is key to their strategy.

"Today, I am pleased to announce that the Democrats are making a $25 million investment to expand the "I Will Vote" campaign," Harris said.

12:03 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021

More than a dozen states have enacted 28 new laws making it harder to vote

From CNN's Janie Boschma

State lawmakers have enacted nearly 30 laws since the 2020 election that restrict ballot access, according to a new tally as of June 21 by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

The 28 total laws in 17 states mark a new record for restrictive voting laws since 2011, when the Brennan Center recorded 19 laws enacted in 14 state legislatures.

More than half of these new laws make it harder to vote absentee and by mail, after a record number of Americans voted by mail in November.

The legislative push is part of a national Republican effort to restrict access to the ballot box following record turnout in the 2020 election. Republicans currently control both chambers of 30 state legislatures.

State lawmakers are expected to attempt enacting additional laws this year.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has announced he will convene a special session of the state legislature on July 8. The Republican governor has promised to revive a slew of new voting restrictions effectively killed by Democrats during the regular legislative session, tweeting late last month that he would be adding "election integrity" to a list of topics lawmakers will address.

CNN's Fredreka Schouten, Keith Allen and Ashley Killough contributed to this report

12:06 p.m. ET, July 8, 2021

Texas state legislature could push for voting restrictions in its special session

From CNN's Keith Allen and Ashley Killough

The Texas state legislature is scheduled to convene a special session today, the same day President Biden and Vice President Harris have scheduled events to address Democratic efforts to address voter suppression.

In June, the Texas legislature attempted to revive a slew of new voting restrictions that was effectively killed by Democrats during the regular legislative session.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott then scheduled a special session for July 8, but did not release the agenda items.

Last month, Abbott vetoed a portion of the state budget that funds the Texas Legislature. The move came weeks after House Democrats walked off the state House floor, leaving majority Republicans without the quorum they needed to approve the bill, SB 7, before a midnight regular legislative session deadline — a move that triggered the election reform bill's expiration.

Republicans in Texas have sought to join Florida, Georgia and other GOP-controlled states that have seized on former President Trump's lies about the 2020 election and adopted new restrictions that will make it harder for some of their residents to vote.

It's not clear whether, once the agenda is set, Republicans will enter the special session set on approving SB 7 as it's currently drafted or will seek to make further changes.

More details: The measure would have made mail-in voting more difficult by requiring voters to supply more information, prohibiting local elections officials from sending out absentee ballot applications to anyone who has not requested one or from working with get-out-the-vote groups that are encouraging Texans to vote by mail.

It also would have prohibited the after-hours and drive-through options that voting rights advocates said helped Black and Latino voters in the Houston area cast their ballots in the 2020 election.