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Senate Democrats Offer A New Voting Bill, But A GOP Filibuster Likely Blocks The Way

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., takes notes during a Senate Rules Committee field hearing on July 19 in Atlanta on the issue of voting rights. Klobuchar and several other Democratic senators have unveiled new voting legislation.
Elijah Nouvelage
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Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., takes notes during a Senate Rules Committee field hearing on July 19 in Atlanta on the issue of voting rights. Klobuchar and several other Democratic senators have unveiled new voting legislation.

Updated September 14, 2021 at 4:36 PM ET

Senate Democrats have reached a deal on revised voting rights legislation, but a major roadblock remains in the evenly divided chamber with Republicans ready to halt the bill's progress.

The package is the latest attempt by Democrats to counteract Republican-led measures at the state level to restrict voting access and alter election administration.

The new legislation, unveiled Tuesday morning by Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and several co-sponsors, builds off a framework proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who had opposed an earlier, sweeping measure from his party.

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Along with Manchin, the new bill's co-sponsors are Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Jon Tester of Montana, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Alex Padilla of California, along with Maine independent Sen. Angus King.

Republicans have been united in opposition to what they call a federal takeover of state election policy. With an evenly divided Senate, a GOP filibuster stands in Democrats' way, and their effort would fall short of the 60 votes needed to move the measure forward.

The new legislation, called the Freedom to Vote Act, includes many provisions from Democrats' sweeping For the People Act, which ran into a Republican filibuster.

The revised bill would make Election Day a public holiday, ensure that every state offers same-day voter registration, set minimum federal standards on mail voting and ban partisan gerrymandering, among its provisions.

"The entire voting rights working group, including Senators Manchin and Merkley," Klobuchar said in a statement, "is united behind legislation that will set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in."

The bill also includes Manchin's call for a voter identification provision but would allow voters casting ballots in person to "present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form," according to the statement.

Democrats have expressed new openness to voter ID requirements.

"The right to vote is fundamental to our Democracy and the Freedom to Vote Act is a step in the right direction towards protecting that right for every American," Manchin said. "As elected officials, we also have an obligation to restore [people's] faith in our Democracy, and I believe that the commonsense provisions in this bill — like flexible voter ID requirements — will do just that."

The new legislation also includes steps to prevent election subversion. The statement said it would establish "protections to insulate nonpartisan state and local officials who administer federal elections from undue partisan interference or control."

A separate Democratic voting bill, a measure named after the late John Lewis to restore the Voting Rights Act, passed with Democratic votes in the House last month.

Klobuchar, as chair of the Senate Rules Committee, has held several events to shore up new support for the Democrats' voting rights efforts, including the panel's first field hearing in Georgia this past summer.

Democrats have been under a great deal of pressure from key constituencies that worked to get them elected to counteract the wave of laws passed in Republican-controlled states. This week, voting rights activists and other Democrats praised the compromise legislation as a significant starting point.

Senate action could happen next week

Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said that while the legislation did not include all of the provisions of the For the People Act, it is "one of the most significant advancements in terms of voting rights that we've seen since 1965."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said the chamber will proceed to the bill as soon as next week.

Schumer said that Manchin has been in discussions with Republican lawmakers about supporting the bill. And the West Virginia Democrat told CNN that he is focused on conversations with "reasonable Republicans." So far, Republicans remain largely opposed to any such reform efforts.

Some supporters say the move will help raise the temperature in the debate to abolish the legislative filibuster, although members such as Manchin have repeatedly said they remain opposed to such an action.

"I think Sen. Manchin gets it, and I think he would like to live in a Senate where 10 Republicans could be pulled into an effort like this, but the reality is that's not the Senate he's in right now," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesperson for Fix Our Senate, a group that advocates for eliminating the filibuster. "We are hopeful that he will be open to the kind of reform that can get this done, because tackling the filibuster is the only way to get this done."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.