Md, De Voting Rights advocates react to John Lewis Bill Failure in US Senate
DELMARVA – President Joe Biden’s voting rights agenda failed to pass on Capitol Hill Wednesday as Senators Kirsten Sinema and Joe Manchin sided with Republicans against a proposed change in the Senate’s filibuster rule.
The rule change and allow the John Lewis Voting rights act to pass with a narrow 51 vote majority. Currently, all legislation that does not fall under budget reconciliation requires a 60 vote senate majority to pass.
“I don’t see an easier path forward on advancing the voting rights restoration act at this point,” said Delaware Senator Chris Coons, adding “It was a difficult day yesterday and I hope folks ow were paying attention and concerned with the path forward will be engaged at the local level.”
But advocates at the local level say the failure at the national level, is just as likely to engage opponents of voter rights reform as it is those seeking to advance state-wide changes.
Advocates in Maryland say they were disappointed the federal legislation failed, despite having strong bipartisan support from voters, particularly as many of the revisions did make it through Maryland’s legislative assembly with bi-partisan support.
“In 2020 as a response to covid we in a lot of ways managed to pass a lot of the reforms that are in the for the people and freedom to vote act,” said Common Cause Maryland Executive Director Joanne Antoine.
She says, despite that progress a big national defeat can help add momentum to opponents in the state who wish to strip voting rights.
“[The loss] makes it that much more difficult to pass reform even though we have made some progress what we are now tackling is what comes up even in our house and senate floor,” she said. Antoine believes the federal protections would help to combat local states from enacting measures that would restrict voting including voter roll purges, voter ID and restrictions on ballot locations.
“Doing nothing is in opposition to what I think most Americans feel are necessary changes, especially when you’re looking at their staffers walking around giving them water and in Georgia, we can’t give out water to those who will stand in line for hours to vote, it’s just a complete disconnect,” Antoine said.
For advocates in Delaware, the fight now shifts to matching the scale of reforms passed in Maryland, including more in-person early voting days, and expanding eligibility for mail-in voting.
“Currently in Delaware if you want to register for an absentee ballot you have to provide certain reasons you are unable to including injury or circumstances, you have to prove that you need it,” said Delaware ACLU Director Mike Brickner.
Brickner tells us that the focus of advocates in the current legislative session is to pass HB75 that would seek to address greater reforms. Brickner says outcomes like these are why his group protested the 2013 Supreme Court decision that stripped back the Voting Rights Act and allowed for less federal oversite of states and election districts with a history of voter suppression and intimidation.
“Prior to that decision this was not a partisan process, and when those periodic renewals of the voting rights act happened they would pass almost unanimously in the senate and would be signed into law by Republican Presidents,” Brickner said.