Students demonstrate in support of voting rights

Students demonstrate in front of the White House to urge President Biden to prioritize voting rights on December 13, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for UnPac)

'Democracy Is Under Attack': 200+ State Lawmakers Tell Senate to Delay Recess to Pass Voting Rights

"If Congress does not act, onerous and discriminatory voting restrictions will silence millions of Americans."

More than 200 state lawmakers from across the nation on Tuesday urged the U.S. Senate to postpone its upcoming holiday recess for as long as necessary to pass voting rights legislation, warning that failure to do so would enable the GOP's "unparalleled" assault on democracy.

"State lawmakers have done everything we can to defend our democracy and protect the voices of our constituents, but we are out of options," reads a new letter the coalition of lawmakers delivered to Senate leaders. "While we've tried to work with our Republican colleagues to set policies that safely and securely protect ballot access, they refuse to act in good faith to uphold the sanctity of our elections."

"They don't need to be going home for Christmas. We need to get voting rights taken care of."

"Now," the letter adds, "the responsibility is on you to ensure the fundamental right to vote is upheld for every American, no matter their background or zip code."

The letter was sent hours after dozens of demonstrators with the national Poor People's Campaign were arrested near the U.S. Capitol for blocking traffic as they demanded congressional action on voting rights, specifically passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act--both of which Republican senators have filibustered.

"They don't need to be going home for Christmas, "Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, told reporters at the Washington, D.C. rally earlier this week. "We need to get voting rights taken care of."

The group of state lawmakers--hailing from Arkansas, Georgia, Texas, and elsewhere--attempted to drive home a similar message in their letter Tuesday, warning that "time is running out" for Congress to act as state-level Republicans push through voter suppression legislation, aggressively gerrymander districts, and seize control of election boards.

This year, according to the latest tally by the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states across the U.S. have enacted at least 33 laws to restrict ballot access as Republicans continue to spread and act on pernicious lies about widespread voter fraud.

Activists have warned in recent weeks that it might already be too late for Congress to stop many GOP-led voter suppression measures and redistricting plots from taking hold ahead of the pivotal 2022 midterm elections. Republicans need to flip just five Democratic seats to win control of the U.S. House.

"American democracy is under attack," reads the state lawmakers' letter. "If Congress does not act, onerous and discriminatory voting restrictions will silence millions of Americans and unfairly drawn congressional maps will reduce representation for communities of color whose voices must be heard by elected officials in positions of power."

"The Senate must step up--before the end of the year--and do whatever it takes to get the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act signed into law," the lawmakers assert.

The Freedom to Vote Act currently has the support of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, but the 60-vote filibuster rule remains an obstacle to the bill's passage in the upper chamber. The GOP has also used the rule to block debate on the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which the House passed in August.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who helped craft the Freedom to Vote Act as a compromise measure, has rejected all proposals to modify or axe the filibuster--which could be done with a simple majority vote--and insisted that voting rights efforts be bipartisan, even as Republicans make clear they have no interest in strengthening ballot access at the federal level.

Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)--another ardent defender of the Senate filibuster--had no problem bypassing the 60-vote rule late Tuesday to approve legislation that would raise the U.S. debt ceiling.

Politicoreported Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "wants to address voting rights before the end of the year" in addition to holding a vote on the Build Back Better Act before Christmas. Manchin is standing in the way of both.

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), a supporter of filibuster reform, told reporters this week that he wants the upper chamber to prioritize voting rights legislation over all else.

"Voting rights should be the very next thing we do," Warnock said. "We've got to get Medicaid expansion, we've got to get child care, we've got to get relief to farmers. All of those things matter. But the point I'm making in this moment is: we have to have a democratic framework to continue to push for those things."

Warnock reiterated his demand in a tweet Tuesday night, writing that "if the Senate can change its rules to fix the debt ceiling, it must do the same to save our democracy."

"We need to protect the right to vote nationwide," he added.

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