Senate Democrats to Make New Push on Voting Rights Bill

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(Bloomberg) -- Senate Democrats are reintroducing a long-stalled voting rights bill Thursday ahead of a key civil rights anniversary, highlighting their efforts on an issue important to Black voters in November’s election.

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Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Dick Durbin of Illinois are leading a new push on the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill named after the late congressman and civil rights icon and written in response to Supreme Court rulings critics say gutted federal protections intended to prevent racial discrimination in elections.

The bill faces long odds in the Senate. Schumer can bring the measure to an initial vote, but it’s unlikely to meet the 60-vote threshold that would be needed for passage. The legislation was voted out of the House in a prior Congress but stalled in the Senate.

Still, the new drive signals the importance Democrats are placing on turning out Black voters this election year. Voting protections are a priority for civil rights groups, who have expressed frustration President Joe Biden has not been able to accomplish more on the issue.

Biden has sought to strengthen his ties to Black voters, who were crucial to sending him to the White House in 2020 but whose support has softened in polls. Advocates have cited halting progress on voting rights, student-loan debt and police reform.

Even if the measure were to pass the Senate, it faces an even tougher path in the GOP-controlled House. Democrats in that chamber have expressed a desire to compel a vote on the bill using a discharge petition, a rarely successful congressional maneuver, according to a person familiar with the matter.

That path requires a majority of House members, and it is unclear if Democrats could secure enough Republicans willing to defy Speaker Mike Johnson.

Biden Pressure

Several states have introduced new measures restricting ballot access in recent years, including eliminating the use of student IDs as validate forms of identification and reducing drop-box availability.

Biden has urged US lawmakers to respond by passing the measure named in honor of Lewis.

Democrats are particularly concerned about new laws in Georgia, a key swing state Biden won in 2020, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so since 1992.

The move to reintroduce the bill comes ahead of events to mark the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers were attacked by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Protesters were brutally beaten, including Lewis who suffered a skull fracture, in a violent attack that marked a turning point in the civil rights movement.

Vice President Kamala Harris is slated to speak in Selma on Sunday. While meeting with advocacy groups on Tuesday, she said she will use the occasion to urge Congress to take up voting rights bills, including the John Lewis Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.

The administration is encouraging voting-rights groups to step up their efforts to register voters this year on Juneteenth Day, National Voter Registration Day and the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Harris’s office this week also announced plans to allow college students who qualify for the federal work study program to get paid for working to register people to vote and work as poll workers.

“In recent years, we have seen attacks on the integrity of elections,” Harris said. “This is a life calling to do the work that is about upholding fundamental principles about democracy.”

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