US Democrats’ Push for Voting Law Changes Likely to Fail

U.S. Democrats’ yearlong effort to overhaul the country’s voting rules comes to a head Wednesday night in the Senate, but indications are their quest likely will fail.

As debate began in the politically divided 100-member chamber, there was no sign that any Republicans would support the plan, which would allow for national oversight of elections to override new voting rules enacted by 19 Republican-controlled state legislatures. 

There also was no indication that two key centrist Democrats — Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin — would drop their opposition to altering the Senate legislative rules so the election law legislation could be enacted without Republican support. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sparred at the outset over the necessity of enacting the voting measures, one of the key pieces of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

The legislation would set uniform voting rules throughout the country, rather than leave in place state-by-state measures. It would, among other provisions, declare early November election days for congressional seats and the presidency as national holidays, require two weeks of early voting hours, and mandate new federal reviews of voting law changes made by states that have a history of discriminating against minority citizens. 

Schumer referenced the election of 1868, the first time that newly freed African American slaves could vote, and suggested that the question before the Senate was whether it would roll back Black voting rights first secured more than 150 years ago. 

McConnell scoffed at Democrats’ complaints about the newly enacted state laws tightening voting rules. Democrats contend the rules will curtail the voting rights of Black voters, who have over past elections overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates.

McConnell described worries over the state laws as Washington Democrats’ “fake panic … that seems to exist only in their own imaginations.” He contended that the new measures would not suppress voting. 

Aside from the unified Republican opposition to the election law changes, Sinema and Manchin remained opposed to changing the Senate’s long-standing filibuster rule that gives the minority party — Republicans or Democrats — the right to demand that a supermajority of 60 votes be amassed to move to a vote on contentious legislation. 

The two Democrats, to the disdain of many of their fellow Democrats in the Senate, have said the filibuster should not be narrowly erased so the voting rights legislation can be approved by a simple majority vote. 

Sinema and Manchin have said use of the filibuster in the Senate protects minority views in the chamber and promotes bipartisanship in American democracy by forcing compromises on legislation. 

Democratic leaders had hoped to pass the election legislation on a 51-50 vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaker.