Republicans in the closely divided U.S. Senate on Tuesday blocked an election reform bill that Democrats say is critical to democracy, arguing it violates states’ rights.
A 50-50 party line vote failed to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to move most legislation forward under Senate rules.
Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer listed the bill as one of his party’s top priorities, saying it could have offset a wave of measures passed by Republican-controlled state lawmakers that imposed new limits on voting. .
Republican state lawmakers are justifying their new laws by citing former President Donald Trump’s persistent false claims that his election defeat in November was the result of widespread fraud. Those claims were rejected by multiple courts, state election authorities and Trump’s own administration.
“It’s a fact, a fact that voting rights in America are under attack, which we haven’t seen in many, many decades,” Schumer said shortly before the vote began. “Are we going to get dragged into the mire of voter suppression by reactionary state lawmakers?”
Democrats consider next steps
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin had pushed for a bipartisan deal, even offering an alternate version of the bill that wasn’t quite as drastic. But he failed to persuade a single Republican to open a debate on the measure.
Anticipating a failure in Tuesday’s vote, some Democrats were already discussing alternative strategies to curb Republican efforts that would undo some of the expanded ballot access of the 2020 election.
Democratic House majority leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that the likely Senate outcome will be “dramatic proof of why the filibuster needs to be adjusted.”
He referred to a procedure that requires at least 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to advance most legislation, rather than a simple majority of 51. The chamber is currently split 50-50, with Democrats holding the deciding vote in Vice President Kamala Harris.
Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow hinted at potential legal action against Republican-led statutes in states, saying, “We have an Attorney General and a (Department of Justice) Civil Rights Division and a commitment from the President of the United States. And we will continue in every way.”
But the courts may not provide an easy win.
The conservative-majority Supreme Court has made it harder in recent years to challenge both voting restrictions and the drafting of legislative districts.
In 2013, it repealed a key part of the Voting Rights Act that protects minority voters, and in 2019 it rejected attempts to curb manipulation of the electoral map by politicians aimed at taking one party to power, a practice that known as gerrymandering. The court could further weaken the Voting Rights Act in a ruling over voting restrictions in Arizona in the coming days.