The mostly party-line vote saw only one defection: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Democrats in support of the bill, and is now the only Republican to lend support to any of Democrats’ election bills. Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the vote.
After the legislation failed to advance, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “After today’s vote, it’s clear that the modern Republican Party has turned its back on protecting voting rights.”
Schumer gave a grateful nod to Murkowski for supporting the bill, but asked, “Where is the rest of the party of Lincoln?”
The bill, called the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, was originally put forward in the House by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.). The same legislation was introduced to the Senate at the beginning of October by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
In an August opinion piece published in the Montgomery Advertiser, Sewell argued that state-level voter integrity laws are putting the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 “in peril.” Sewell compared the “state-level effort to restrict the right to vote” to “modern-day Jim Crow attacks.”
Primarily, the bill is intended to restore provisions of the VRA that Sewell and other Democrats accuse the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) of “gutting.”
Several of the VRA’s enforcement mechanisms were struck down in 2013 after SCOTUS ruled that circumstances had changed so dramatically in the 50+ years since the bill’s passage that these “extraordinary” mechanisms could no longer be justified.
Under the VRA, states considered by the federal government to have a history of discrimination were barred from changing their election laws without federal “pre-clearance” approving the laws.
After SCOTUS’ 2013 decision, several states rushed to strengthen their voting laws; The frenzy to further strengthen state election rules has only grown since, as Republicans prioritize securing elections in the wake of inconsistencies in the 2020 election.
By Joseph Lord