The flurry of state Republican legislators introducing and passing these laws began after Biden won the 2020 presidential election, and former President Donald Trump continued to perpetuate the falsehood that the election was stolen from him. Democrats refer to that as the “Big Lie,” and have criticized Republicans for going along with that falsehood by introducing restrictive voting laws.
The House passed its version of S. 1, known as H.R. 1, but Republicans blocked the bill in the Senate.
A push to lose the filibuster
The architect of H.R. 1, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) along with U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, also a Maryland Democrat, at the rally called for the end of the filibuster and the passage of “For the People Act.”
“We know that voter suppression and election subversion suppress and suffocate and diminish the voice of the people in the country,” Sarbanes said. “That’s what the ‘For the People Act’ is trying to address, to lift up the voice of the people to fight back against voter suppression and election subversion, to fight back against the influence big money has in our politics.”
North Carolina state Sen. Natalie Murdock said that federal voting protections are needed, and pointed out that her state in its constitution still refers to a literacy test needed for voting.
She added that this is not the first time Black voters have had to fight for their basic right to vote.
“Voter suppression is not as flagrant as it was when my ancestors fought,” she said. “The fire hoses and attack dogs have been replaced with complex and oppressive laws fueled by the ‘Big Lie’ that not only make it harder to vote, but harder for those votes to count.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the bills that he’s seeing in his state seek to depress voting among voters of color.
“These voter suppression bills, at their core, are about white supremacy,” he said. “That’s one of the many reasons we have to stop them, or override them with federal legislation.”
Casey added that he’s determined to pass voting rights legislation, “even if that means changing the Senate rule on 60 votes.”
Any voting rights legislation will face an uphill battle in the Senate.
Democrats have been unable to get the 10 Republican votes needed to advance the bill to debate and Senate Democrats Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are not on board with eliminating the filibuster, even to pass voting rights legislation.
Civil rights advocates have continued to press Manchin and Sinema nonetheless.
John Lewis bill
The state legislators at the rally also urged the quick passage of the “John Lewis Voting Rights and Advancement Act.”
House Democrats are planning this week to unveil the new version of that bill, named after the late Georgia civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, that could protect voting rights across the United States.
The bill, H.R. 4, aims to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and while it has not been made public yet, it is possible it could do so by establishing a new formula to require all 50 states to get special permission from the Justice Department before making any changes to voting laws or putting in place new voting requirements.
The preclearance formula for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was put in place for nine states, and a handful of cities and countries, with a history of discriminating against Black voters. Those states included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The handful of counties included those in New York, Florida, North Carolina, California and South Dakota.
At the rally, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said that the fight to protect voting rights will be carried on by the memory of John Lewis, who advocated for the right to vote for decades.
“We know John Lewis was a legend, but he was just a young man when he got off the sidelines and threw himself into the (civil rights) efforts,” Booker said.
And with that memory, Booker acknowledged that it will be a long fight to protect voting rights, just as it was when the Voting Rights Act was first passed in 1965.
“(John Lewis) knew that voting rights wouldn’t come by a bunch of folks in the Senate getting together and saying ‘Hey, y’all, you know what, let’s give those Negro people their voting rights,’ ” he said. “That’s not how change is made. Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has and it never will. If there is no struggle there is no progress.”
The Daily Montanan contributed to this story.