About 150 Democratic state legislators from 27 states are to converge Tuesday on the U.S. Capitol to demand the Senate approve a voting-rights bill that would invalidate many new Republican-backed state election laws.
The state officials are expected to be joined at the rally by 50 Democratic Texas state lawmakers who have been holed up in Washington to keep their Legislature from having a quorum and passing a Republican-pushed voting law.
The legislators from around the country are calling on the Senate to approve the federal voting-rights legislation before senators leave Friday for a monthlong recess. Republicans argue that the measure would nationalize state elections.
“The freedom to vote is under unprecedented attack by extremist lawmakers in states across the country, including in Arizona,” said Arizona state Rep. Jennifer Longdon, a Democrat. “Every Democrat in the U.S. Senate should feel urgency to pass legislation protecting the right to vote. Recess can wait — but our democracy can’t.”
The demands in the highly charged national debate add more drama, particularly for Democratic senators who already have their hands full trying to pass a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. The Senate is due to leave for a break until Sept. 13.
In a prelude, about 300 activists, including leaders of the National Council of Churches, rallied in front of Union Station in Washington and marched to the Capitol demanding that Congress block the state laws.
Democrats and a coalition of civil rights and other liberal groups have been pushing Congress to pass laws that would undo state laws being passed by Republican-led legislatures.
Proponents of the tougher laws say they’re needed to ensure the integrity of elections, a hot topic given former President Donald Trump’s unproven claims that his failed reelection bid last year was stolen from him.
But Democratic opponents say the laws disproportionately keep people of color from voting because they are less likely to have the required documents.
Studies give a mixed picture, with some showing ID requirements lower the minority vote, while others showing they do not or have a minimal impact.
Republican senators have said that Democratic comparisons of the state measures to Jim Crow-era laws, which prohibited or placed significant obstacles to keep Black people from voting, are lies.
Each party is accusing the other of trying to skew elections in their favor, either by blocking voters of color who tend to support Democrats — or, from the Republican perspective, making it easier for Democrats to cheat.
“Every issue that we care about depends on voters’ ability to freely and fairly cast a ballot on Election Day — whether it’s health care, jobs or education,” said Georgia state Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Democrat and president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. “Right now, our democracy is at stake. Time is running out — the Senate must do whatever it takes to immediately pass the For the People Act to ensure that people can freely and fairly pick their elected officials.”
The push by the states faces an uphill battle. Any legislation would need the support of 10 Republicans to stop a filibuster in the Senate.
In a party-line vote, all Senate Republicans in June blocked the Democrats’ so-called For the People Act from being considered. The bill would set national standards that track with the laws in the most liberal states.
Under the legislation, voters would be ushered into automatic registration if they use a government service, and states would have to adopt same-day registration. Voting by mail would be a required option, and ballots could have been counted even if they arrived after Election Day.
The legislation also would limit states’ efforts to purge names from voter rolls.
It did not ban voter ID laws but imposed a national workaround for those without ID that is more lenient than laws in most of the 30 states that require identification.
Democrats plan to take up an update to the federal voting-rights act after the recess that would allow the Justice Department to block new state voting laws it believes harms civil rights and make it easier to undo existing state laws. But that bill faces the same fate as the bill in June.
One hope for Democrats is to undo the filibuster, a move that moderate Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have opposed. Lawmakers are in discussions to create a compromise voting bill that the moderates might support.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, has floated the idea of including a financial incentive on states to enact voting laws supported by the left in the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill that Democrats are hoping to ram through Congress this fall without Republican support.