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'We are out of options': 480 state lawmakers urge Congress to pass voting rights bill

Hundreds of legislators are pushing Congress to pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act, despite its paltry odds of victory in the Senate.

By Josh Axelrod - June 22, 2021
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Joe Manchin

In a pleading letter to Senate and House leadership, more than 480 state legislators called for the passage of H.R. 1, the For the People Act, Democrats’ major voting rights bill that is likely destined for failure when it comes to a vote Tuesday.

“We are out of options. We need your help,” the lawmakers, representing all 50 states, wrote Monday. 

They added, “The world is watching. American democracy is in the balance. When future generations judge whether we rose to this pivotal moment in history, we hope you will be counted alongside us in the fight to preserve this experiment in self-governance.”

The landmark H.R. 1, a cornerstone of the Democrats’ political agenda, would expand access to voting, combat gerrymandering, protect against foreign interference, and overhaul campaign finance laws. The bill is all but certain to fail, as it has zero support from Republicans, likely renewing calls for the end of the filibuster which requires 60 votes for the legislation to pass.

Every single Republican voted against the bill when it was brought to a vote in the House this past March.

The For the People Act was intended as a response to a GOP-led assault on voting rights — as of May, legislators in almost every state have put forth more than 380 bills curtailing access to the ballot, according to the Brennan Center for Justice’s state voting bills tracker. Among those are attempts to cut down on early voting, limit ballot box locations severely, purge voter rolls, and implement voter ID requirements, which experts have said repeatedly disenfranchises low income and minority voters.

“Make no mistake: these unpatriotic attacks on our elections will undermine confidence that elections in America can possibly represent the will of a checked and balanced majority,” the state legislators wrote Monday. “They present a deep threat to our democracy and will lead to material harm to communities that have long been under-represented.”

They lambasted their Republican peers for denying the will of voters, a majority of whom support the reforms included in H.R. 1, according to a Pew Research poll.

“We have attempted again and again to work with our Republican colleagues to set policies that safely and securely expanded voting access—but they simply refuse to act in good faith. This is not how we hoped our legislative bodies would function, but this is the world as it is,” they wrote.

Senate Democrats will have trouble scraping together 50 votes in their own party that would allow them to end the filibuster, let alone the 60 needed to outright pass it, due to opposition from figures like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

“I got to see,” Manchin told CNN when asked how he would vote Monday night. “I hope they make some changes or agree to some changes.”

Democrats are still hopeful that they can bring Manchin and other moderate Democrats on board for a unified party vote, despite Manchin’s statement earlier this month that he would not support H.R. 1. The moderate Democrat released his own voting rights proposal last week, featuring a watered down list of reforms pulled from a companion voting bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

He met with President Joe Biden at the White House Monday, where the two discussed voting rights reform, and according to Politico spoke with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), one of the bill’s sponsors, later that evening to discuss the legislation as well.

Biden’s approach on voting rights thus far has been uneven — he pledged earlier in June to “fight like heck with every tool at my disposal” and slighted lawmakers like Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) for voting “more with my Republican friends.”

Biden, a Senate veteran himself, has also earned the ire of progressives, who claim he is not doing enough to push the legislation through.

“The For the People Act will be voted on today,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who served under former President Bill Clinton, tweeted on Tuesday. “Where’s Biden? Why isn’t he making the case to the American people? Why isn’t he strong arming Manchin? Why isn’t he on the Hill buttonholing senators?”

He added, “The most important voting rights bill in 56 years. His silence is breathtaking.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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