WASHINGTON – Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, wrote a letter on Monday calling on Congress to re-authorize the Voting Rights Act, seeking to rekindle debate on a bipartisan track for strengthen access voting.
“Protecting Americans’ access to democracy has not been a partisan issue for the past 56 years, and we must not allow it to become so now,” they wrote to the four main leaders in Congress.
Although the letter did not name the bill, a Manchin aide said senators were referring to John Lewis’ Advancement of Voting Rights Act, which seeks to require states that have recently made the discriminated against in voting rights to obtain federal pre-approval before changing their election laws.
In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the formula established by Congress for determining which states are subject to the rule, calling it outdated. The issue has since languished on Capitol Hill, with Republicans disinterested in reinstating a “preclearance” requirement, and GOP-led states across the country moving to pass restrictive voting laws.
The Manchin-Murkowski letter is designed to show that there is some bipartisan support for the cause of voting rights protection.
It comes as Manchin faces progressive criticism for being the one to stand up to the Democratic coup on the “For The People Act,” a sweeping bill that aims to allow better access to the ballot box and which all states must follow. . The Democratic-controlled House approved this bill, but it did not take over the bill named after John Lewis.
Manchin insisted that any attempt to overhaul federal voting laws has the support of both sides.
But it is far from clear that there would be the minimum 10 Republican senators required to defeat an obstruction to the re-authorization of Senate voting rights, which is evenly split between the two parties.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was introduced last year by Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Murkowski was the only Republican co-sponsor.
Manchin wants to see some changes in the 2020 version of the bill, including applying its regulations to all 50 states, an aide said. In the letter, he called for moving it forward through the regular process, in which amendments are allowed in committee and in the full Senate.
“Inaction is not an option. Congress must come together – as we have done time and time again – to reaffirm our long-standing bipartisan commitment to free, accessible and safe elections for all,” wrote Manchin and Murkowski. “We urge you to join us in calling for the bipartisan re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act by regular order. We can do it. We must do it.”
Garrett haake and Julie tsirkin contributed.