A bipartisan pair of senators, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have asked U.S. Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act as several Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed a series of election integrity measures.
In a letter to House and Senate bipartisan leaders on Monday, May 17, the two said that reshaping the landmark 1965 legislation, which was intended to protect the right of minorities to vote, is the best way to secure a compromise on ballot-box inequities.
They pointed out that “the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been reauthorized and amended five times with large, bipartisan majorities” since it was first passed.
“Protecting Americans’ access to democracy has not been a partisan issue for the past 56 years, and we must not allow it to become one now,” the two wrote.
Most recently, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which banned discriminatory voting practices, was reauthorized in 2006 with a bipartisan Senate vote of 98-0, the letter noted.
But in 2013, the Supreme Court declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, claiming that the method for determining which states and localities were subject to greater federal oversight was obsolete.
They reasoned that this ruling on Section 4 has essentially invalidated the law.
Although two senators did not mention any legislation, Democrats have been calling for and are expected later this year to reintroduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 4263), which reinstates Section 4 and changes the formula on which jurisdictions are covered.
Their decision comes just days after a Senate panel tied 9-9 on a vote to advance Democratic-drafted alternative voting rights legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leads a day-long campaign to make the case against legislation he called a political power grab. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer has the votes to bring it to the Senate floor, but with the chamber divided 50-50, he will not be able to do so without Manchin’s support.
The bill, S.1, is a top priority for Democrats in the face of attempts by Republican-controlled state legislatures to impose ballot limits, motivated in part by former President Donald Trump’s claims about election fraud in 2020. Among other things, it will establish national requirements for election rules, such as no-excuse mail-in voting and automatic voter registration, and include more campaign finance reporting and new ethics provisions for all three branches of the federal government.
Although Manchin voiced support for the Voting Rights Act reauthorization, he claimed that he does not support For the People Act – Democrats’ voting rights package. Not one single Republican supports it. They said that this bill is an effort by Democrats to seize power and a federal government overreach.
Recently enacted state election integrity laws have faced criticism from Democrats. They claim the laws would further restrict voting rights, while Republicans, in contrast, praise these efforts, claiming that the laws would make voting safer.
The Brennan Center for Justice—an independent think tank—counted that more than 360 bills to limit voting rights have been introduced in at least 47 states since the November election. Five of them have already become law.
Four Republican-led states, including Georgia and Florida, have passed measures this year.