On June 22, Senate Republicans blocked the For the People Act during a procedural vote to advance the legislation, after which Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters that “the fight is not over.” The VP vowed that she and President Joe Biden will continue to push for voting reform, which includes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that will likely go to the Senate floor later this year.
The For the People Act was created, in part, to counter a number of states changing their voting laws, which President Biden had likened to Jim Crow. Democrats have suggested the new laws are designed to limit black voting, while states including Georgia and Iowa say the moves are intended to boost electoral security.
The Senate vote was meant to see if talks about the For the People Act could continue, but even though all Democrats voted for it, they received no support from any Republicans. To pass, it would have needed 60 votes, yet it ended up split down the middle with 50-50.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was less than pleased, saying:
“Once again, Senate Republicans have signed their names in the ledger of history alongside Donald Trump, the big lie, and voter suppression.
“To their enduring disgrace, this vote, I’m ashamed to say, is further evidence that voter suppression has become part of the official platform of the Republican Party.”
If passed, it would have given the Democrats the opportunity to discuss the measure in more detail, but the GOP declined, not approving of some terms of the bill.
Republicans contended that the legislation was not bipartisan and would have catered to the Democrats, while the left side of the aisle says it is needed to end voter suppression. If passed, it would have created automatic voter registration across the nation. It also would have offered 15 days of early voting and states would have to allow no-excuse absentee ballots. One of the major sticking points for the GOP was the requirement to disclose names of donors to some political groups as well as allowing public financing for congressional campaigns. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke out about the bill:
“These same rotten proposals have sometimes been called a massive overhaul for a broken democracy, sometimes just a modest package of tweaks for a democracy that’s working perfectly and sometimes a response to state actions, which this bill actually predates by many years. But whatever label Democrats slap on the bill, the substance remains the same.”
Despite this lack of bipartisan support, leading Democrats have said they are not ready to give up their fight, with Schumer arguing:
“Republican senators may have prevented us from having a debate on voting rights today but I want to be very clear about one thing, the fight to protect voting rights is not over, by no means. In the fight for voting rights, this vote was the starting gun not the finish line.”
After the defeat, the president said, “Unfortunately, a Democratic stand to protect our democracy met a solid Republican wall of opposition … But let me be clear. This fight is far from over—far from over. I’ve been engaged in this work my whole career, and we are going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again—for the people, for our very democracy.”
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
The Democrats are not finished with trying to impose federal control over states’ voting laws, now concentrating their efforts on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Named after the late congressman, this act seeks to restore enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act which became law in 1965 after a law-enforcement attack on activists seeking stronger voting rights in Selma, AL. The act required that nine states with a history of racial discrimination would need approval, or “pre-clearance,” before they could change their election laws. In 2013, the Supreme Court nullified the act in the Shelby County v Holder decision.
Part of the new version may extend the “pre-clearance” to all 50 states, so that the federal government would have the power to approve or nix a change to states’ voting legislation and procedures.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.