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Voting rights advocates protest in front of the Supreme Court.

Protesters gather during a rally held by the group Common Cause in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on January 10, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

'S.O.S.!': Groups in Red States Nationwide Plead With Democrats to Pass Voting Rights Bill

"We can tell you firsthand that our Republican senators have no interest in joining this effort."

Jake Johnson

A coalition of more than 75 progressive advocacy groups based in Republican-led states sent a letter Wednesday imploring Democrats in the U.S. Senate to "do whatever it takes" to quickly pass the Freedom to Vote Act, a compromise bill that would help counter the GOP's nationwide assault on the franchise.

"In many of our states, our ability to participate in our democracy is under attack by Republican-led legislatures and Republican governors," reads the new letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "These legislators went to work almost immediately after the 2020 election to pass extreme voter suppression laws, and many are now in the midst of drawing highly gerrymandered congressional maps to undermine the political power of hundreds of thousands of people who live in our respective states."

Signed by Indivisible chapters from Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, and more than a dozen other Republican-run states, the letter warns that GOP lawmakers are aggressively pursuing a range of voter suppression methods, including:

  • Voter roll purges of eligible voters;
  • Polling place closures;
  • New restrictions on vote-by-mail;
  • Reduced early voting days; and
  • Bans on food and water distribution in voting lines.

"The only solution now," the groups argue, "is to pass federal democracy reform legislation to override the harm that has already been done and that will prevent future attacks on our constitutional right to vote."

Stressing the urgency of their demand, the organizations declared in a press release, "S.O.S.! Pass the Freedom to Vote Act!"

The groups' plea came as the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965, remain stuck in the Senate due to Republicans' repeated use of the 60-vote filibuster rule—and Democrats' refusal to eliminate it.

Despite the GOP's unwavering obstructionism, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—one of the most outspoken defenders of the filibuster in the Senate Democratic caucus—has insisted that federal voting rights changes be pursued on a bipartisan basis, meaning Senate Democrats would have to win at least 10 Republican votes for a bill to pass.

In their letter to Schumer on Wednesday, the progressive groups wrote that "while we can appreciate the desire among some in your caucus to move ahead on a bipartisan basis to address the existential threats facing our democracy, we can tell you firsthand that our Republican senators have no interest in joining this effort."

"Republicans have already blocked votes on democracy bills four different times this year," the groups noted. "We do not see a future where any Republican (let alone 10) joins with you to vote in favor of structural democracy reforms. Trust us, we've tried."

"That's why we need you, and your caucus, to do whatever it takes to pass these critical democracy reform bills in the Senate—even if that means eliminating or reforming the filibuster," the letter states.

With Republican-led voter suppression efforts proceeding apace in states across the country, Senate Democrats have been primarily focused on getting their $1.75 trillion social spending and climate package over the finish line, leaving voting rights advocates concerned that critical pro-democracy reforms have been deprioritized.

Earlier this week, as Common Dreams reported, more than 200 progressive advocacy groups called on congressional Democrats to delay their Christmas recess until they approve the Freedom to Vote Act and the House-passed John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Virginia Toliver, a member of Indivisible Northeast Mississippi, said in a statement Wednesday that Senate Democrats and President [Joe] Biden must follow through on their oaths to protect our democracy, and diligently pursue passage of the Freedom to Vote Act immediately!"

"Growing up in the segregated South during the Jim Crow era, I witnessed the atrocities heaped upon Blacks in their efforts to secure the right to vote firsthand," said Toliver. "My mother was 40 years old and my grandmother was 62 before they were even allowed to vote. The stringent voter restrictions now in place are tantamount to those early experiences, and the historical absence of appropriate voting accommodation measures ensures that this will remain or even worsen."

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