As state-level Republicans intensify their attacks on the franchise with extreme gerrymandering and other tactics nationwide, more than 200 advocacy groups on Thursday urged Democratic congressional leaders to postpone an upcoming holiday recess in order to pass key voting rights legislation.
“The 2021 holiday recess scheduled to begin on December 13, 2021 should be delayed if the bills are not passed,” reads a letter signed by the Declaration for American Democracy (DFAD), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and dozens of other organizations. “This provides ample time to ensure the Senate has the necessary time to debate and vote on these critically important pieces of voting rights legislation.”
The bills in question—the Freedom to Vote Act and the House-passed John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—have been stuck in the Senate for weeks after the chamber’s Republican minority deployed the archaic filibuster rule to block debate on both measures.
Despite mounting pressure from progressive lawmakers and grassroots voting rights advocates, Senate Democrats have refused to use their narrow majority to abolish the filibuster, which right-wing Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have vocally defended.
The Washington Post reported last month that Democratic leaders are planning to launch a “last-ditch voting rights push” once work on the Build Back Better package is complete, but any substantive legislation is likely to fail as long as the 60-vote filibuster exists.
“Our democracy is under attack across the country, and Senate Democrats must do whatever it takes—right now—to get these critical voting rights bills signed into law,” Jana Morgan, director of the DFAD coalition, said Thursday. “As these organizations, who represent tens of millions of Americans, make clear: time is running out. We need to pass these bills as soon as possible.”
Congressional Democrats’ failure to strengthen voting rights at the federal level has allowed aggressive voter suppression campaigns by Republican-controlled state legislatures—from Ohio to Wisconsin to Texas—to proceed unabated ahead of the critical 2022 midterm elections.
“A year before the polls open in the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans are already poised to flip at least five seats in the closely divided House thanks to redrawn district maps that are more distorted, more disjointed, and more gerrymandered than any since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965,” the New York Times reported last month. “Republicans need to flip just five Democratic-held seats next year to seize a House majority.”
In their letter Thursday, the coalition of advocacy groups warns that “our country is facing an existential crisis that has little precedent” as GOP lawmakers restrict voting rights and warp congressional districts “to choose which voters they represent, instead of the other way around.”
“Even after the horrifying January 6th attack on the citadel of American democracy to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, there continue to be unparalleled efforts to sabotage our elections with fear, disinformation, and partisan practices intended to overturn the voices and votes of the American people, often targeting communities of color,” the letter states. “These efforts have been further aided by the majority of the Supreme Court, which this year made two consequential decisions to further empower dark, untraceable money in our politics and further weaken the vital Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore and strengthen the gutted provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Freedom to Vote Act, a compromise measure backed by Manchin, would ban partisan gerrymandering, strengthen campaign finance laws, and prevent voter-roll purges.
“The foundation of our democracy is on the line,” Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. “We cannot continue to operate as though communities will jump through unnecessary hurdles to exercise our right to vote and once again save our country.”
“The idea that senators would leave for recess when so much that makes America America is on the table is unacceptable,” Henderson added. “The numerous hurdles that voters experienced during the 2020 election cycle amid a pandemic—and the ensuing efforts by some to erect barriers to the ballot box—reinforce this urgent need to safeguard our democracy by the end of the year.”