More than 100 state legislators from across the country will converge in Washington on Monday to join their Texas counterparts in pushing the Senate and President Biden to take action on voting reform legislation.
The For the People Act, which would set voting standards and overhaul campaign finance and ethics rules, has stalled in the 50-50 Senate because it can’t get the support of 60 members needed to pass most legislation there. And at least two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — have resisted calls to eliminate that filibuster rule, or make an exception for the bill, and allow it to pass with a simple majority.
Florida state Rep. Anna V. Eskamani (D) said she hopes to impress upon those senators the importance of counteracting measures such as the ones passed recently in her state, which she said affect voting by mail and voter registration.
“I really want to make sure they understand what we’re going through in Florida. If we don’t get this Congress to act, and the Biden administration to put pressure on voting rights, then I’m very worried about the ability of everyday Floridians to have their voices heard in the election process,” Eskamani, whose district in based in the Orlando area, said in an interview. She said “a federal firewall from these state voter suppression activities” is needed.
The action was organized by Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of activist groups supporting the For the People Act. It comes as other groups have stepped up efforts to call attention to voting rights in the hope of spurring Congress and the White House to act. Fair Fight Action and CAP Action are flying in 40 voters to appeal to senators, and the Poor People’s Campaign, led by the Rev. William J. Barber II, has scheduled a nonviolent demonstration in Washington on Monday. Several political and civic groups led by Black women have held weekly demonstrations at the Hart Senate Office Building, and several activists and three members of Congress have been arrested.
Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who along with 49 of his Democratic colleagues left the state to block Republicans from passing voting restrictions, welcomes the reinforcements, especially from states such as Arizona, Georgia and Florida, where GOP lawmakers and activists have amplified and acted on Trump’s false claims that he lost reelection because of widespread voter fraud.
The Texas Democrats have been camped out in D.C. since July 12, shutting down a special session of the legislature. The special session was necessary after the caucus walked out on the last day of the regular session in May. Without the Democrats, the Republican-controlled legislature doesn’t have a quorum and has been unable to pass new voting restrictions. Less than a week after arriving in D.C., several members of the caucus tested positive for the coronavirus. A spokesman said Sunday that the affected members have since tested negative and that there were “no more positive tests within the delegation.” An organizer of the legislators’ visit said participants would follow all local guidelines on masking and social distancing.
Activists have praised Biden for a speech last month in which he condemned former president Donald Trump’s unfounded attacks on the nation’s election system and the rush of states to pass restrictive laws, but they also expressed frustration that he has seemed more engaged in getting his infrastructure bill passed.
The Brennan Center for Justice, which has been tracking bills to restrict voting, reports that as of July, 18 states have enacted 30 laws that will make it harder to vote. Voting rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers have said federal legislation is necessary to counteract state laws that have reduced early voting and mail-in voting, made it illegal to give food and water to voters waiting in long lines, and enable state officials to replace county election boards.
Manchin, who appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, said that he supports “open, fair and secure elections” and that he is concerned that Trump’s ongoing attacks on last year’s election have left a large share of Republicans doubting that Biden was legitimately elected.
Still, he argued, the For the People Act would “divide our country further.” He has proposed changes to the bill, and on Tuesday a group of Senate Democrats signaled that they were working on a revised measure that would include some of his suggestions. Manchin said a better option would be the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which also has not garnered 60 votes, even as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle praise the late congressman and civil rights icon for which the bill is named.
Manchin said Sunday that the filibuster “makes us work together” and that he does not support an exception for the voting bills.
Martinez Fischer said that “no Senate rule or tradition should come before our rights” and that he remains hopeful that lawmakers and the Biden administration will make progress on voting rights before the chamber goes on recess, possibly at the end of the week. He also said he was encouraged by a White House readout Friday that said Biden, Vice President Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had “agreed on the importance of advancing legislation reflecting the priorities and values” of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
“We have plenty of time until the August recess,” he said. “So every single day the U.S. Senate is here in town, we are going to ask them to move on voting rights with all due speed.”