Senate Republicans voted unanimously today to block a debate on the voting rights bill proposed by the Democrats – the Freedom to Vote Act. The vote was announced by Vice President Kamala Harris and needed 60 votes to allow a debate. But all 50 Republican Senators voted against the debate, while Senator Chuck Schumer changed his vote to “No” in order to be able to bring it up later, taking the final tally to 49-51.

It is important to note that today’s vote does note block the bill itself, but a debate on it. Some of the proposed provisions of the bill dubbed Freedom to Vote Act include:

  • Declaring Election Day as a holiday
  • Automatic and same day voter registration
  • Early voting as far back as two weeks prior
  • Anyone can vote by mail
  • New rules related to redistricting
  • Empowering the Federal Election Commission

The main aims of the Bill are to make voting accessible to all eligible constituents, prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering and ensuring greater transparency in the campaign finance process.

Needless to say, the vote against the debate on the Freedom to Vote Act drew sharp criticism from Human Rights groups and activists.

NAACP President and CEO, Derrick Johnson said, “Today was another punch in the gut for America. The failure to pass the Freedom to Vote Act is reprehensible. Combined with the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, this bill would have been a necessary step in the right direction for our democracy. But while our democracy dwindles on the edge of a cliff, lawmakers are still finding a way to put partisanship above the country.”

Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo said, “Today’s vote is not the first time Senate Republicans have demonstrated their complete unwillingness to work with Democrats to protect the freedom to vote, and today they again prevented the Senate from even debating this bill on the floor. The Senate must be restored and the freedom to vote must be protected. Together, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will ensure all eligible Americans can cast our ballots freely, safely, and equally. With the redistricting already underway, the time has never been more urgent for Senators to take bold action and do whatever is necessary to pass these two bills.”

This was clearly a setback for Democrats, who had made two prior attempts to bring about voting reforms:

The Senate Republican vote against the Act was along expected lines, with a filibuster being imminent. In fact, now there is an even greater push to change filibuster laws.

This prospect of having the debate railroaded by the filibuster is why Senate Majority Leader and New York Senator Chuck Schumer changed his vote to “No”, so that he could retain his right to bring up the debate later. Schumer remains committed to bringing another important voting legislation – the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to the Senate next week. He tweeted:

*Feature image by Phil Roeder via Wikimedia Commons.