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Voting Rights

Progressives Push as Historic Voting Rights Battle Begins in the Senate

Democrats may need to eliminate the filibuster to pass voting-rights protections in the face of Republican voter suppression

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) with a bipartisan group of senators in December announcing a coronavirus relief bill.


(Image: Photo by Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images.)

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee is expected to have a contentious hearing Tuesday as it begins work on the Democrat-backed For The People Act, the new bill designed to counter Republican vote suppression.

Democrats lack the votes to beat back an expected Republican filibuster when the bill reaches the Senate floor, so progressives have mounted a multi-million-dollar push for the bill. End Citizens United and Let America Vote are running ads in West Virginia and elsewhere to pressure Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to support ending the filibuster.

If passed, the bill would mandate new standards of voting access -- such as allowing same-day registration. It would also block some voter-suppression methods at the state level, impose new limits on dark money, and create new ethical standards for lobbying.

What Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) described in March as a bill to “stand up to voter suppression, to end dark money in politics, and re-invigorate American democracy in the 21st Century,” is also what Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called “a federal takeover of the way we conduct elections."

Many of the bill's measures have had Democratic support for years. But the issue has new urgency in light of Republican-passed state-level voter suppression around the country. The Brennan Center’s latest research shows state legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states, as of March 24.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has told reporters that the For The people Act, “is a priority to the president, something he’ll be working with members of Congress to move up — move forward on.”

Activists around the country continue to rally and raise awareness against voter suppression laws. Saturday's nationwide demonstration honored John Lewis and his commitment to expanding voting rights. Ads using his likeness, such as “Your Vote Is Precious” from Just Democracy, are pushing the Senate to pass the For The People Act. With Republicans on record opposing it, that pressure is being focused on Democrats.

Manchin has been vocal about his belief that the bill can pass the Senate, pledging to work with Republicans on it. If that effort fails, however, Manchin has said he will under “no circumstance [vote to] eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”

But progressives are pushing to change that. Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told Roll Call that the PCCC “is working with local leaders in West Virginia to [incentivize] Manchin.” Green called the bill "a high-water mark of coordination among progressive groups and political allies.”

Green went on to note that “When [the For the People Act] was written, it was a beautiful thing, but the authors could not imagine all of the evil we’ve since seen in Georgia, Texas and elsewhere, so some fixes around the edges will likely need to be made."

The House's version of the act passed with all Republicans and one Democrat voting against it. Although the Senate Rules Committee is evenly split, with nine members from each party, a tie could still bring the proposed legislation to the floor.

Schumer took to Twitter on Monday night to vow that the For The People Act is not dead, writing, “I am committed to bringing this bill to the floor of the United States Senate.”

Zoltan Lucas is a TYT news assistant and a former intern for TYT Investigates. He's on twitter @thiszoltan

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