Republicans Reject the Freedom to Vote Act

October 20, 2021 | 3:58 pm
Michael Fleshman/Flickr
Michael Latner
Senior Voting Rights Fellow

With the specter of election subversion looming over 2024, President Biden has renewed his party’s public commitment to voting rights and electoral integrity—but he has so far avoided pressuring Senate Democrats to alter the filibuster in order to secure these protections ostensibly in the hope that ten Republican senators might step up to the plate and support bipartisan reform, if only they had the chance.

Republicans just rejected that chance. Today, the Senate voted to set debate rules on the Freedom to Vote Act, the compromise bill from Senators Manchin, Warnock, Klobuchar, Merkley, Tester, King, Padilla, and Kaine, as well as Majority Leader Schumer, which Senator Manchin has been pitching across the aisle for bipartisan support. The bill was specifically crafted as a compromise, removing elements of the Democrats’ more expansive For the People Act, such as the requirement that states establish independent redistricting commissions to curb gerrymandering. Instead, the legislation provides more extensive judicial oversight, while allowing states to work out how they meet national election standards to:

  • guarantee the right to vote in federal elections, prohibiting states from passing “retrogressive” laws that make voting harder;
  • establish federal protections for elections officials and standards for the handling of election equipment and records;
  • ensure multiple options for ballot access, including mail and early in-person voting;
  • require states to count provisional ballots cast by eligible voters in the wrong precinct but in the correct county;
  • require a 30-minute limit on wait times for in-person voting; and
  • provide specific legal and quantitative standards to prohibit partisan gerrymandering.

The new legislation also adds provisions meant to curb state-level efforts to allow officials to override election results. Republicans, who historically helped lead the effort to secure democracy in the United States since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, now lack the courage to reject efforts within their own party to subvert voting rights and the integrity of our elections, unlike Democrats, who took a stand against white supremacists and segregationists in their own party in 1965.

The country faces a turning point in the history of our democracy. Senate Democratic leadership must take the next step and alter the filibuster to allow a majority vote on the most fundamental of constitutional rights. This legislation may not be enough, but without it, our democracy is not likely to withstand the coming attempt to subvert our elections. And make no mistake, it is coming.

About the author

More from Michael

Michael Latner is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His research focuses on political representation and electoral systems, including redistricting and gerrymandering in the US, and the impact of electoral administrative law on political participation.