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Manchin, Murkowski call on Congress to reauthorize Voting Rights Act

NBC News logo NBC News 5/17/2021 Sahil Kapur and Garrett Haake and Julie Tsirkin
Lisa Murkowski in a suit and tie talking on a cell phone © Provided by NBC News

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, wrote a letter Monday calling on Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, seeking to jump-start a debate on a bipartisan path to bolstering voting access.

"Protecting Americans’ access to democracy has not been a partisan issue for the past 56 years, and we must not allow it to become one now," they wrote to the top four congressional leaders.

While the letter didn't name the bill, a Manchin aide said the senators are referring to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which aims to require states with a recent record of discrimination in voting rights to get federal pre-approval before changing their election laws.

The Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the formula established by Congress to determine which states are subject to the rule, calling it outdated. The issue has since languished on Capitol Hill, with Republicans uninterested in re-establishing a "preclearance" requirement, and GOP-led states around the country moving to pass restrictive voting laws.

The Manchin-Murkowski letter is designed to show that there is some bipartisan support for the cause of protecting voting rights.

It comes as Manchin faces progressive criticism for being the lone Democratic holdout on the "For The People Act," a sweeping bill that aims to allow more ballot access and that all states must follow. The Democratic-controlled House approved that bill but it hasn't taken up the bill named for John Lewis.

Manchin has insisted that any attempt to overhaul federal voting laws have support from both parties.

But it's far from clear there would be the minimum 10 Republican senators required to defeat a filibuster of the voting rights reauthorization in the Senate, which is split evenly between the two parties.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was introduced last year by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Murkowski was the only Republican co-sponsor.

Manchin wants to see some changes to the 2020 version of the bill, including by applying its regulations to all 50 states, an aide said. In the letter, he called for advancing it through the regular process, in which amendments are permitted in committee and in the full Senate.

"Inaction is not an option. Congress must come together — just as we have done time and again — to reaffirm our longstanding bipartisan commitment to free, accessible, and secure elections for all," Manchin and Murkowski wrote. "We urge you to join us in calling for the bipartisan reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act through regular order. We can do this. We must do this."

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