Democrats in the House of Representatives passed an omnibus voting rights bill that would create national standards for ballot access and voter registration, combat election subversion and revive anti-discrimination protections in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
That bill – combining the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which both faced repeat Republican filibusters in the Senate – now heads to the upper chamber, where Democrats mull changes to Senate rules to prevent GOP obstruction.
It passed by a vote of 220-203. No House Republican voted in support.
President Joe Biden will meet with senators on 13 January after his furious address condemning a Republican-backed wave of state-level legislation to restrict ballot access and change the rules of election administration.
Congressional Republicans lambasted his remarks and his support for changes to Senate filibuster rules on which they have repeatedly relied to block federal voting rights legislation.
Senate Democrats do not have sufficient votes to overcome a Republican filibuster in the evenly divided upper chamber, where legislation would need at least 60 votes to secure passage.
Voting rights bills in the House have faced more than a dozen hearings and have been repeatedly passed in the chamber over the last few years, only to face a Republican stonewall in the Senate.
“The House has made clear we stand with the people in the fight for voting rights,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.
She said lawmakers are sending the latest bill to the Senate for “urgent consideration”.
“Nothing less is at stake than our democracy,” she said.
Democratic US Rep Terri Sewell said she is imploring the Senate “to do what is right.”
“You have changed your rules 150 times, most recently to raise the debt ceiling,” she said. “If you can protect the credit of the United States, surely you can protect democracy.”
Last year, Republican state lawmakers passed at least 32 new laws in 17 states to change how elections are run, including efforts to strip oversight from election officials and put it into the hands of GOP-dominated state legislatures.
GOP legislators filed at least 262 such bills in 41 states, and more are expected as legislative sessions resume in 2022, according to States United Democracy Center.
A parallel effort saw the passage of at least 24 laws in 19 states restricting ballot access, after GOP legislators filed more than 440 bills in 49 states last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
More than a dozen bills restricting ballot access have been pre-filed ahead of 2022 legislative sessions in four states, and at least 88 bills in nine states will carry over from 2021 sessions.
The “Freedom to Vote: John R Lewis Act” would set national standards for early and mail-in voting as well as voter ID laws, make Election Day a national holiday, and provide protections for election workers, among other measures.
It also would make changes to federal campaign finance laws and create protections for nonpartisan election administration.