WASHINGTON – A small group of civil rights leaders gathered at Vice President Kamala Harris’s ceremonial office last week to discuss Republican-backed laws limiting voting in several states. Among the ideas put forward were the pursuit of political organization against the proposals, the recruitment of more companies to fight and lawsuits to block the laws.
But the conversation continued to revert to the most effective, and perhaps the most difficult, strategy: the passage of the Democrats’ sweeping federal election overhaul, the For the People Act, commonly known as HR1.
“We firmly believe that HR1 is viable and essential if we are to address some of these related laws,” said Janet Murguia, executive director of the Latin group UNIDOS, who attended the meeting.
The session highlighted the search for a strong defense against laws that Democrats say are designed to make voting more difficult. Democrats are running low on numbers in many states to prevent Republicans from passing tougher rules. Corporate statements and street protests made Republicans uncomfortable and relaxed some of the legislation, but did not stop it. The lawsuits may not be resolved until next year’s midterm elections.
That leaves plenty of room for a federal rewrite of election and election laws that could defeat many of the state rules that Republicans support. But a Senate hearing on the legislation this week was a protest by the United Republican opposition, leaving Democrats without an easy path.
“We will make great efforts to pass this bill. I think there are a number of other things we should be doing at the same time, ”Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md said on Tuesday.
State lawmakers have proposed more than 250 bills that make voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which promotes wider access to the ballot box. Several Republican-controlled states, including Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and Montana, recently passed laws that add restrictions, such as limiting access to drop boxes for ballots. postal voting or the reduction of early voting hours. Arizona on Tuesday passed a law that requires regular purges of its mail-in voting list.
Some states, largely controlled by Democrats, have also expanded voting; Oklahoma, which added a day of in-person early voting to the legislation signed on Tuesday.
The Republican push is being spurred by false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election has been stolen. This is a claim now widely accepted, despite all evidence to the contrary, by many in his party. State election officials across the country and judges from both parties have found no evidence to support Trump’s claims, but Republican lawmakers say new, stricter rules are needed to restore confidence in the electoral system.
The laws have sparked more than a dozen lawsuits from Democrats and civil rights groups. The challenges generally allege that the laws violate the First, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by limiting the ability of people to engage in politics and vote.
Marc Elias, the leading Democratic lawyer in the electoral struggle, said litigation was “not the best way forward”.
Lawsuits can take months or years to resolve, and it is far from clear that the courts will support the Democrats’ arguments. Some of the federal appellate courts likely to end up hearing the cases have shifted to the right in recent years when Trump appointed conservative judges.
Since the United States Supreme Court removed the requirement for some states to obtain prior approval from the Federal Department of Justice before changing voting laws, civil rights lawyers have been denied a once powerful tool to block voting restrictions. Lawyers are watching the Supreme Court again because judges are expected to rule on a 2016 Arizona voting case soon, which could further restrict how lawyers can challenge voting limits.
“The best way to do this is for Congress to pass HR1,” Elias said. “We look to the courts not as our first choice, but as our last.”
President Biden, who said the laws were a sign the nation was “going back to the days of Jim Crow,” said the Justice Department was reviewing Georgia’s new law.
“The Department of Justice must also step in here and use the powers at its disposal,” Van Hollen said.
The overhaul of the Democratic election would effectively neutralize voter identification laws, implement automatic national voter registration, and ban partisan gerrymandering.
While Republicans oppose the legislation, moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona oppose rewriting Senate rules to pass the proposal by simple majority. 51 votes. Right now, it takes 60 votes to wipe out a Republican filibuster.
Manchin on Wednesday expressed support for a narrower voting bill – which would reinstate the requirement that the Justice Department “pre-clarify” voting restrictions. His approval could be a sign of growing support for the measure, although it would also require Republican votes or a change in Senate rules.
Still, Democrats didn’t seem to have a clear path on Thursday after spending part of their weekly Senate lunch discussing HR1 and voting. Manchin wasn’t even there; he was in West Virginia to host the visit of First Lady Jill Biden.
Democrats have pledged to move forward, hoping the dynamics of HR1 will change somehow. “We have to get it to the ground and spend real time there to mature it,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I. “Hearts and minds can change when real effort is put in.”
In the May 6 meeting with Harris, civil rights leaders noted that they were surprised at how businesses have spoken out against voting laws in some states. They suggested enlisting them to speak more enthusiastically about the right to vote or even support HR1. They spoke of additional litigation but did not pressure Harris over the Justice Department’s plans, according to Wade Henderson, acting chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who was in attendance.
The White House said the meeting was an opportunity for Harris to hear directly from leaders in various constituencies “about the work they are doing on the ground to mobilize their networks and fight voter suppression.”
The group talked about building political opposition, both on the ground and on the air. Republican groups have launched ads promoting Georgia’s new law as a logical way to secure the elections. Just Left Democracy kicked off a campaign in Arizona and Georgia this week with a speech by the late Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a longtime civil rights leader.
The group is also concerned about the divisive partisanship.
“A point made by a number of advocates is that this is not a partisan issue – it is about making sure everyone can vote,” said John C. Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing. Justice – AAJC.
Henderson said Harris “made it clear that she and the president would use their chair of intimidation to encourage Congress to make an impact.”
Biden, Republican senators optimistic after infrastructure talks