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Top Senate Democrats Get Deal With Manchin on Voting Rights

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 9/14/2021 Laura Litvan

(Bloomberg) -- Senior Senate Democrats have reached agreement with moderate Senator Joe Manchin on a broad overhaul of U.S. voting rights law, a development that should unify all Democrats in the chamber behind a single plan for the first time.

The measure would create an automatic voter registration system through each state’s motor vehicle agency, make Election Day a public holiday and provide voters with at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections. It also is designed to curtail partisan “gerrymandering” of congressional districts and would put in place new campaign finance disclosure requirements that include mandating Super-PACs and other outside groups report their donors.

The agreement comes after months of negotiations with Manchin, who withheld his support from a far more expansive Democratic proposal. But the measure still doesn’t have the Republican backing needed to advance the bill to the floor of the Senate, which is divided 50-50 between the two parties.

Joe Manchin wearing a suit and tie: Democrats Attempt Appeal To Moderates By Slimming Biden Tax Plan © Bloomberg Democrats Attempt Appeal To Moderates By Slimming Biden Tax Plan

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would hold a vote as early as next week on bringing the measure to the floor. Even without the support needed to prevail, the move would put all senators on record and allow Democrats to showcase the issue heading into next year’s midterm elections. 

The fight over ballot restrictions flared over the summer as Democratic lawmakers in Texas fled the state for 38 days to delay action on a slate of new limits on voting there. Republican legislatures around the country have been seeking to tighten voting rules, arguing the changes are needed for election security following former President Donald Trump’s continued false claims that he was denied a re-election victory because of voting fraud.

“The fact of the matter is that this legislation is critical for stopping some of the most egregious assaults against voting rights happening at the state level,” Schumer said Tuesday morning on the Senate floor.


Video: Sen. Klobuchar: Sen. Manchin ‘has come a long way’ on voting rights bill (MSNBC)

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Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has made clear Republicans are unified in opposition to many of the provisions contained in the Democratic plan, including added campaign finance disclosures and automatic voter registration.

Civil rights leaders and progressive groups are demanding the Senate eliminate or carve out a new exception to its filibuster rule if the Republican minority uses the tactic to block protection of what they consider fundamental constitutional rights. However, Manchin and Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona oppose changing the rules, denying Democratic leaders the votes to do that.

The overhaul’s proponents include Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Alex Padilla of California, Jon Tester of Montana and Raphael Warnock of Georgia. In addition, Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has signed on as a co-sponsor.

“Following the 2020 elections in which more Americans voted than ever before, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “These attacks demand an immediate federal response.”

The Democrat-led House this year has passed much broader voting rights legislation that reflected a series of changes the party campaigned on in the 2020 elections. The House also followed that up in late August with a measure that would restore a system of Justice Department “preclearances” of voting-law changes for some states to ensure the changes didn’t harm minority voters. The Supreme Court in 2013 ruled the system in use then was outdated and struck it down.

(Updates with Schumer comment in sixth paragraph, McConnell position in seventh paragraph. Adds detail about House action in final paragraph.)

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