The new bill, called the Freedom to Vote Act, removes some contentious elements from the original bill, such as restructuring the Federal Election Commission and public funding of large-scale congressional elections – a proposal which Republicans ridiculed. But it is retaining provisions to establish national standards for access to ballots, a response to voting restrictions that Republican legislatures have enacted across the country since the 2020 election.
This would create a requirement for voter identification, which many Democrats have vehemently opposed. But the requirement would be far less onerous than those some states have attempted to impose, allowing voters to present a variety of ID cards and documents in both paper and digital form. Democrats say the new Republican laws are particularly aimed at discouraging the participation of minority and low-income voters who may not have the specific identification required by some states.
The revised measure would also require states to allow at least 15 consecutive days of early voting, including two weekends; ensure that all voters can apply to vote by post; establish new automatic voter registration programs; and make election day a national holiday.
It would require states to follow specific criteria when establishing new congressional constituencies to reduce partisan gerrymandering and force disclosure of donors to so-called black money groups. It would also establish new federal protections against partisan interference for state and local election administrators.
“After the 2020 election, in which more Americans voted than ever before, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Democrat from Minnesota who heads the Rules Committee, which is responsible for monitoring elections. . “These attacks demand an immediate federal response.”
Mr Manchin had opposed the original legislation and proposed elements of a bill he would support, prompting his negotiations with Ms Klobuchar and other Democratic senators: Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tim Kaine from Virginia, Jon Tester from Montana, Alex Padilla from California and Raphael Warnock from Georgia. Senator Angus King, independent from Maine, also attended.
While Democrats applauded the new version, they also acknowledged that they were very unlikely to attract enough Republican support to break a filibuster against any ballot bill. With Democrats controlling 50 votes in the Senate, they would need 10 Republicans to join them in support of the legislation to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome an obstruction, an extremely unlikely scenario. That means they should unite to force a change to the Senate rules governing filibuster if the law had a chance.