Senate Democrats on Tuesday announced a deal clinching crucial support from Sen. Joe Manchin III for an election overhaul bill, setting up a vote on the legislation that would override new voting laws in Republican-run states.
The compromise unites all Senate Democrats behind a measure to set federal standards on elections. It stops states from requiring driver’s licenses for voter ID laws and instead allows alternative proof of identity such as a signed statement or a third-party vouching for ones’ identity.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said he will bring the bill up for a vote as soon as next week.
Mr. Manchin of West Virginia, the most conservative Democrat in the upper chamber, is trying to muster Republican support for the measure, but it is doubtful he will get the 10 Republican votes needed to avert a filibuster.
Republicans have unanimously opposed the federal government usurping the power of states to decide how to hold elections and the bill is still expected to die in a filibuster.
“There is no rational basis for the federal government taking over how we conduct elections,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “You’re watching some states pass new laws based upon the experience we had last year during a 100-year pandemic. What all these new laws have in common is they are not designed to suppress the vote of minorities. There’s no reason for the federal government to take over how we do elections.”
The Democrats’ election bill, which is dubbed the Freedom to Vote Act, would require that states:
• Automatically register people to vote if they have a driver’s license;
• Makes Election Day a national holiday;
• Mandate at least 15 days of early voting;
• Require same-day registration to vote.
The proposal also prohibits states from partisan redistricting of congressional districts.
Heritage Action, a conservative advocacy group, said the new bill would make it easier to cheat in elections.
“Senate Democrats’ ‘compromise’ election bill is no compromise at all — they failed to work with a single Republican on it,” said the group’s executive director Jessica Anderson. “For the past year, while states are making it easy to vote and hard to cheat, the left has worked to make our elections less secure and hand control of our elections over to unelected federal bureaucrats. This bill is no different — it’s another Pelosi power grab.”
At a rally near the U.S. Capitol, civil rights groups called on Senate Democrats to change the chamber’s rules to eliminate the filibuster. Jana Morgan, director of Declaration for American Democracy, called on President Biden to use his influence on senators to eliminate the filibuster.
“The Biden administration has promised to protect our freedom to vote, but we have yet to see him use the full power in the Oval Office,” she said.
Democrats and civil rights groups made it a top priority to override new laws in 18 GOP-run states aimed at reducing election fraud with measures such as voter ID laws and restrictions on mail-in ballots.
The left claims that these new laws block people of color from voting because poor Black people are less likely to have the identification.
At the rally, Sen. Amy Klobuchar called the states’ new election laws “an attack on democracy.” She likened them to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol.
“We can’t simply sit back and watch and let our democracy fall, whether it is threatened with bear spray and crowbars and access or long lines, no ballot boxes and dark money,” said the Minnesota Democrat. “It is still under siege, when we are faced with a coordinated effort across the country to limit the freedom to vote we must stand up and do what is right.”
Mr. Manchin had objected to a previous version of the bill passed in the House that only required a signed statement as a workaround for voter ID laws.
“The right to vote is fundamental to our Democracy and the Freedom to Vote Act is a step in the right direction towards protecting that right for every American. As elected officials, we also have an obligation to restore peoples’ faith in our Democracy, and I believe that the commonsense provisions in this bill — like flexible voter ID requirements — will do just that,” Mr. Manchin said in a statement.
The political left applauded the proposal.
“The Freedom to Vote Act is a very strong bill. It gives powerful new momentum to the fight to protect democracy. It should be passed, and soon,” said Michael Waldman, president of New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice.