Top Republicans have vowed to block a new voting rights Bill when it goes to the Senate next week, as Democrats push ahead with one of the signature priorities of the Biden administration.
With efforts under way in Republican-controlled state houses across America to tighten rules around elections and reduce opportunities for voters to cast their ballot, Democrats have been trying to secure support for a new nationwide Voting Rights Act.
The issue of electoral participation and voting rights has emerged as a lightning rod in US politics following Donald Trump’s defeat in last year’s presidential election.
The former president – and millions of his supporters – have falsely claimed that November’s presidential election was marred by widespread fraud, prompting Republican state representatives to implement legislation restricting voter access.
Georgia and Florida are among the states to sign new laws introducing changes to voting practices, including restrictions on early voting, mail-in voting and the use of drop-boxes.
Democrats in Texas last month blocked a Bill overhauling how elections in the state are run, but it is expected to be passed in a special legislative session.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell vowed to block the new federal legislation when it is brought to the floor next week, rejecting claims that individual states have made voting more difficult.
“I’ve taken a look at all the new state laws – none of them are designed to suppress the vote,” the Kentucky Republican said. “There is no rational basis for the federal government to take over all of American elections.”
Democrats received a boost this week when senator Joe Manchin – a moderate Democrat who had opposed the original plan – proposed a slimmed-down version. In a surprise move, Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and a key figure in the movement to protect voting rights, praised the proposal from the West Virginia senator.
Her support makes it more likely that more progressive Democrats will come on board with the Manchin plan, ensuring that Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer will have all 50 Democratic votes when he puts a procedural vote to the floor on Tuesday.
This means he could advance the legislation without Republican support, if vice-president Kamala Harris casts a tie-breaking vote in the evenly divided 100-member Senate. The House of Representatives has already passed its own version of the Bill, and would likely support the new version of the legislation.
While Mr Manchin’s proposal omits some parts of the existing Bill known as the “For the People” Act, it includes key provisions like making election day a federal holiday, allowing 15 days of early voting and banning partisan gerrymandering. He also proposes a requirement that all voters will need to produce ID to vote as part of the package.
President Joe Biden strongly supports the Voting Rights Act, condemning recent state laws restricting voter access as "un-American" and a return to the Jim Crow system of segregation that existed after the civil war.
Last month, at an event marking the centenary of the Tulsa race massacre, he tasked vice-president Kamala Harris with liaising with Congress on protecting voter rights.