Speed Reads

Voting Rights

Democrats aren't giving up on protecting voting rights, but their options are pretty limited

Democratic leaders vowed to continue pushing for federal legislation to protect and expand voting rights after Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked debate on the For the People Act, the sweeping elections package Democrats have prioritized. "In the fight for voting rights, this vote was the starting gun, not the finish line," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the GOP filibustered the bill. The White House said President Biden views ensuring voting access the "fight of his presidency."

But "Democrats are boxed in on their party's signature election reform plan," and "at the moment, the party doesn't have a backup plan on elections" or a path to change the filibuster, Politico reports. Both parties managed to keep their caucuses unified in Tuesday's 50-50 Senate vote, and Republicans have made it pretty clear they are not interested in a federal remedy to the voting restrictions GOP state legislatures are putting in place on the pretextual rationale that Republican voters are concerned about election security after Biden's 2020 victory.

"Discussions are ongoing among congressional Democrats on how to proceed," The Associated Press reports, including changing the filibuster. One possibility is exempting bills on elections and voting, making 41 senators from the minority party to show up to block legislation, and returning to the "talking" filibuster. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said she will holding hearing to focus attention on some of the more than 30 restrictive voting laws that 18 GOP-led states have enacted since the 2020 election, according to the Voting Rights Lab. Democrats are also considering breaking up the legislation into popular chunks and forcing a vote on those narrower bills, and trying to enact some of their measures through party-line budget reconciliation.

Some Democrats are also more hopeful about the prospects for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, expected to be ready in the fall. One Senate Republican, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), has already endorsed that bill, which would restore federal oversight of state voting legislation to ensure it isn't racially discriminatory.

The John Lewis Act "faces an uphill battle in securing enough Republican votes for passage," election law scholar Richard Pildes writes in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday. "But because it is the only legislation with any bipartisan support so far, it might be the most plausible route for now to bolster national voting-rights policy — and to help bring greater legitimacy to our election process."