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As GOP rejects Freedom to Vote Act, Dems have a decision to make

The Freedom to Vote Act was a compromise plan designed to garner bipartisan support. Literally every Senate Republican rejected it anyway.


Among Senate Republicans, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski has stood out on the issue of voting rights. For example, when Democrats sought out GOP supporters for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, Murkowski endorsed the legislation — even when literally no other Republicans would.

With this in mind, when the Alaskan indicated late yesterday that she'd stick with her party on today's vote to debate the Freedom to Vote Act, it became obvious what would happen on the Senate floor. NBC News reported this afternoon:

Senate Republicans filibustered a major voting bill on Wednesday that would allow automatic same-day voter registration and make Election Day a holiday. The 49-51 vote on the procedural motion was short of the 60 needed to advance the legislation to the next stage, marking the second time this year Republicans have prevented a Democratic-backed voting bill from moving forward.

The final tally was 50-50 in the Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer switched his vote for procedural reasons, leaving him the opportunity to bring the bill back to the floor again in the future.

In case this isn't obvious, it's worth emphasizing that today's vote wasn't on the legislation itself; this was a procedural vote to begin the debate on the legislation. Democratic leaders reemphasized this morning that if Republicans would simply allow the debate to begin, GOP members could introduce amendments. "If Republicans join us in proceeding to this bill, I am prepared to hold a full-fledged debate worthy of the U.S. Senate," Chuck Schumer said this morning. "The minority will have the chance to have their voices heard."

But Republicans don't want to be heard on the issue; they just want the issue to go away.

Let no one say Democrats didn't make a good-faith effort. After the demise of the For the People Act, Democrats came up with a compromise package with three parts. The first focused on voter access and election administration, and it included provisions that would create automatic voter registration at a national level, make Election Day a national holiday, and establish floors states could not fall below on early voting, same-day registration, mail voting and drop boxes. This section also set a national standard for voter-ID laws, intended to address Republican demands.

The second part focused on election integrity, and it included provisions to insulate election officials from partisan interference, established cybersecurity standards, and with the 2016 race in mind, created "a reporting requirement for federal campaigns to disclose certain foreign contacts."

The final part focused on civic participation and, among other things, aimed to end partisan gerrymandering for both parties.

After the bill's unveiling, proponents got to work reaching out to Republicans, hoping to get some bipartisan cooperation. Some even suggested the door might be open: Asked last month about his plan to get the bill passed, West Virginia's Joe Manchin replied, "It's to get 10 Republicans."

He got zero Republicans.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, today's outcome brings us to a familiar point: Senate Democrats will now have to decide whether to let partisan attacks on the electoral system go uncontested or to allow for a carve-out to the institution's filibuster rules in order to protect the franchise.

In July, Virginia's Mark Warner, a moderate Senate Democrat, publicly endorsed just such a carve-out, saying Americans' voting rights are so fundamentally important to our system of government, this is "the only area" in which he'd support an exception to the chamber's existing filibuster rules.

Maine's Angus King, a moderate independent who caucuses with Democrats, said something similar on MSNBC yesterday afternoon. “I’ve concluded that democracy itself is more important than any Senate rule,” Angus told Nicolle Wallace.

Will Democratic senators such as Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema agree? Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norm Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently made the case in a Washington Post opinion piece that the stakes are so high that every Democratic senator will ultimately do the responsible thing and allow members to rescue democracy by simply passing a worthwhile bill by majority rule.

Proponents of democracy have reason to hope they're right.