‘It’s time to take action’: faith leaders urge Biden to pass voting rights legislation

<span>Photograph: Andrew Kelly/AP</span>
Photograph: Andrew Kelly/AP

More than 800 faith leaders have called on the Biden administration and Senate Democrats to pass voting rights legislation next year.

“We cannot be clearer, you must act now to protect every American’s freedom to vote without interference and with confidence that their ballot will be counted and honored. Passing comprehensive voting rights legislation must be the number-one priority of the administration and Congress,” faith leaders said in a letter addressed to the president and Senate members on Wednesday.

The letter, organized by Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, was signed by various faith organizations, including the African American Christian Clergy Coalition, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action and Faith in Public Life.

Signatories include those who come from Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities, including Reverend Canon Leonard L Hamlin Sr of the Washington National Cathedral and Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg of National Council of Jewish Women.

“The communities we represent will continue to sound the alarm until these bills are passed. While we come from different faiths, we are united by our commitment to act in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us,” the letter added.

The letter comes after Republicans successfully filibustered voting rights bills on four different occasions this year. Most recently, on 3 November, Republicans in the Senate blocked the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Acts – one of two major pieces of voting rights legislation that Democrats have championed in Congress in attempts to prevent Republicans from eroding easy access to the vote.

Republicans blocking the key voting rights bill in November was a move seen by many as a breaking point in the push to eliminate the filibuster, the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to advance most legislation.

Despite numerous Democrats calling for the elimination of the filibuster, they lack the votes to end the rule due to not only a slim majority but also opposition within their own party. Two Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, are strongly opposed, arguing that the rule forges bipartisan compromise.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, described the filibuster on 3 November as a “low, low point in the history of this body”.

In Wednesday’s letter, faith leaders said, “Nothing – including the filibuster – should stand in the way of passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, both of which have already passed the House and await Senate action and leadership.”

According to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice, nineteen states have enacted nearly three dozen laws between January and the end of September that make it more difficult to vote.

Wednesday’s letter is a reflection of the growing pressure on Democrats to pass voting rights legislation that aims to outlaw excessive partisan gerrymandering and would require early voting, no-excuse mail-in voting, in addition to automatic and same-day registration.

“It’s time to stop lamenting the state of our democracy and take action to address it,” the letter said.