On Jan. 19, two bills regarding voting rights were passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, but blocked in the Senate after the Democratic Party failed to change the bills’ filibuster rules. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement and the Freedom to Vote Act both faced an uphill battle, as Republicans had earlier blocked attempts at combining voting rights bills put forth by Democratic senators. Despite the Republican Party’s continued refusal to budge on the issue, Democrats continued to push forward in order to highlight the importance of the topic and force debate.
Voting rights have been one of the Democratic Party’s main concerns as midterm elections approach. The Lewis Act and Freedom to Vote act were pivotal to current civil rights arguments, yet cannot seem to pass especially after controversies surrounding voter fraud put forth by former President Donald Trump.
In order to end the filibuster attached to the bills, 10 Republican senators would have had to vote with all 50 Democratic senators. Democrats attempted to change the filibuster to a “talking filibuster,” in which anyone filibustering would
come to the floor and speak in opposition. The bills would face a simple majority vote after the speeches conclude, thus eliminating the 60-vote requirement.
The rule change was unsuccessful, which was expected with outspoken pushback from the Republican Party and no support from Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, two moderate Democratic senators. In a statement, Sinema said that her decision came from a distaste for actions that “deepen our divisions and risk repeated radical reversals in federal policy, cementing uncertainty and further eroding confidence in our government.”
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the late congressman and civil rights activist, set out to reverse a 2013 Supreme Court decision that overturned sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Lewis Act would restore a requirement that states with a history of voting rights discrimination get preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before changing any part of their voting laws.
The Freedom to Vote Act was more expansive and included many updates to voting procedures in order to limit factors that may block voters from the polls, as well as outlawing partisan gerrymandering. The act would make election day a national holiday, allow states to have early voting, allow voting by mail without any excuse, and generally make voting more accessible. It would also broaden the types of identification accepted for states that require voting ID, also requiring them to offer same-day voting registration.
As more Republican-controlled state legislatures build roadblocks into their states voting laws, some voters are at risk of being denied their right to vote. These efforts by Republicans are needed they say to combat fraud in the election process, something election experts deny exists.
America needs more accountability when it comes to how we conduct ourselves during elections. The bills shot down this past week will not solve all of our problems, but do bring multiple issues to light. Discussions must continue about whose opinions and voices America is deciding to value. The Senate’s vote to block both bills also highlights the increasing divide between America’s two political parties. It is becoming abundantly clear that we no longer care about what is right, only who thinks they are right.