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Biden to Push for Voting Rights Measures

U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are headed Tuesday to the southern state of Georgia to promote voting rights legislation that would greatly expand federal purview over elections but has stalled in the Senate. 

A White House official said Biden would use an address to advocate for the right to vote in free, fair and secure elections untainted by partisan manipulation, and say that the way to guarantee those rights is by enacting two pieces of voting legislation introduced by Democrats. 

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation,” Biden says, according to a White House excerpt of his remarks.  “Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so, the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?” 

He later said on Twitter, “History has never been kind to those who have sided with voter suppression over voting rights. And it will not be kind to those who fail to defend the right to vote.”

But Republicans in Congress have uniformly opposed the measures, contending that each of the individual 50 U.S. states should continue to set their own rules, including on voting hours, how many days of early voting should be allowed ahead of the traditional early November election days and the extent to which mail-in balloting is allowed.

In the 2020 presidential election, Biden ousted former President Donald Trump after a single White House term. Biden won some states where voting days were added, voting hours extended and mail-in balloting expanded to limit the need for voters to go to traditional, crowded voting places on Election Day in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, Democrats, in the legislation Biden supports, want to codify many of those changes for future elections, including the 2022 elections next November, when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and about a third of the Senate seats are up for grabs. Numerous Republican-controlled state legislatures in the last year have curtailed many of the changes enacted for the 2020 election, fearing that Democrats would gain a permanent electoral advantage if the rules were left in place.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to force votes this week on both the Freedom to Vote Act, which would overhaul federal election rules, and separate voting legislation that would strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act requiring federal approval of newly enacted state voting regulations.

But Senate Republicans are set to use the 60-vote legislative filibuster to block those bills from advancing. The 100-member Senate is evenly divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans and the entire Republican caucus opposes the Democratic election legislation, meaning Democrats can likely only pass their proposals if they carve out an exception to the filibuster rule for voting rights legislation and win approval on a 51-50 vote, with Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

Schumer has vowed to hold a vote by next Monday to change the legislative filibuster rules, but at least two Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, remain opposed to changing the legislative filibuster rule, even for voting rights measures. 

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has adamantly opposed the Democratic election law legislation and changing the filibuster rule.

“No party that would trash the Senate’s legislation traditions can be trusted to seize control over election laws all across America,” McConnell told the Senate recently. “Nobody who is this desperate to take over our democracy on a one-party basis can be allowed to do it.”

Democrats routinely criticize Trump and his Republican allies for what they characterize as his “Big Lie” that he was cheated out of re-election. McConnell, in turn, attacked Democrats over “the left’s Big Lie,” what he said is the belief that “there is some evil anti-voting conspiracy sweeping America.”

In supporting greater federal control of elections, Schumer cited data from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School showing that in the last year at least 19 states have passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. One of the states enacting more restrictions is Georgia, where Biden and Harris won in 2020 and are visiting on Tuesday.

But Senate Democrats have no path forward unless they change filibuster rules that prevent contentious legislation from advancing without the support of at least 60 of the 100 senators.

The White House official said Biden would voice support for changing the rule in order to protect voting rights and make the drawing of geographical lines for congressional districts less partisan.

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