In the nine months since Republicans in Georgia broke a host of new voting restrictions, 18 other states have enacted 33 such laws. More than 30 states have completed their realignment processes, with extreme partisan gerrymandering blocking Republican control of legislatures in the electoral battlefields of Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas for another 10 years.
On Tuesday, President Biden urged Democrats to change Senate rules to open a path — now blocked by the threat of a Republican filibuster — to federal legislation that would roll back some of the more egregious new voting restrictions and would curb partisan gerrymandering.
Calm persuasion, Biden said, is no longer an option for a voting bill that Democrats have been debating among themselves for nearly a year now.
“I’ve had silent conversations with members of Congress for the past two months,” the president said in Atlanta on Tuesday. “I’m tired of being quiet!”
To that end, Mr. Biden called for the 60-vote threshold on draft voting rights bills to be lifted, a move he opposed during his campaign and resisted for most of the first year of his presidency.
However, while Mr. Biden waited, the laws governing voting were changed in many states, and some degree of voter suppression may have become almost certain.
Confusion over changing voting laws, access, locations and timetables could cause some citizens to miss out on their voting options, experts say. Tougher penalties for voters and for election officials can deter people from voting for fear of prosecution for an honest mistake.
And newly drawn district maps that significantly benefit a party — such as those in Texas and Ohio, where Republican lawmakers have secured legislative majorities for nearly a decade regardless of which party wins the national contests — can also discourage citizens from voting.
“There’s been damage done and it’s not entirely clear how much of that damage we can undo,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a voting rights group. He said his organization had heard from voters in Georgia who struggled with the state’s new rules during last year’s municipal elections.
The two bills Democrats are targeting — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — would roll back some of the tougher restrictions passed by state lawmakers in 2021 by setting minimum requirements for early voting and for which forms of identification are accepted at polling stations and by facilitating the voter registration process.
The Freedom to Vote Act would also make partisan gerrymandering illegal, giving the Justice Department and outside groups more legal tools to challenge politically skewed cards.
In particular, the bills would expand access to vote in predominantly Democratic states, such as New York and Delaware, which have very limited early voting facilities, and would help rein in Democratic gerrymanders in states such as Illinois and Maryland.
But with the first season of the midterm elections starting March 1 in Texas, the window for passing federal voting laws is shrinking — fueling the frustration of activists who looked to the White House for action, or at least for more muscular ones. statements of support and urgency throughout 2021.
“Unless President Biden applies the same level of urgency around voting rights as he did for BBB and infrastructure, America could soon be unrecognizable,” Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said in a statement Tuesday, citing the stalled Build Back of the Mr Biden. Better bill. “While President Biden delivered a rousing speech today, it is time for this administration to match their words with deeds, and for Congress to do their job.”
Republicans opposing Democratic voting efforts have bitterly warned against tampering with the filibuster rule. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has said this would “break the Senate”. And Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who signed the voting bill that Biden condemned in much of his speech — curtailing drop boxes, adding identification requirements, and stripping the office of Georgia’s Secretary of State of some electoral powers, among others. provisions – mentioned the Democratic pressure on voting rights an “attack on electoral integrity.”
On Twitter, Mr. Kemp wrote on Tuesday that Mr. Biden had attacked Georgia’s law in “an effort to distract from their many failures and rally their base around a federal takeover of elections.”
Mr. Biden always had great chances to win a substantial legislative victory over the right to vote. Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, oppose weakening filibuster rule, warn of potential Republican retaliation if the GOP wins a majority in the Senate, and say legislation without a bipartisan agreement would push the country forward would divide.
And the Senate split 50-50 means Democrats can’t change the rules without the consent of every member of their caucus.
For its part, the White House insists it has done what it can, issuing an executive order in March calling on federal agencies to study and potentially expand access to voter registration materials. The Justice Department has more than doubled the size of its civil rights division, the division that handles voting rights disputes, and has sued Georgia and Texas over their new voting laws and the new district maps passed by the Texas legislature.
Still, frustrated voting rights activists argue that if Mr. Biden had devoted more of his energy to the issue, by publicly and vigorously advocating the legislation, he would have pressured unruly Democrats to join a filibuster change to that effect.
“The administration had more than 300 meetings to make the infrastructure law a reality,” said Julián Castro, the former housing secretary who opposed Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination for 2020. “They haven’t used the same muscle or effort for voting rights, and that has been a mistake.”
Instead, the lack of direct involvement from Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he has charged with advancing voting rights legislation at her request, has vexed many activists and civil rights leaders.
Last summer, dozens of Democratic lawmakers in Texas tried to get the White House and Congress to act on voting rights. When the Republicans in Austin imposed new restrictions, the Democrats slowed things down by fleeing to Washington. While the group met Ms. Harris and some senators, they never had an audience with Mr. Biden, and attention to their case waned after a few days.
“No doubt we wish this work had been the primary focus of the White House last year,” said Gina Hinojosa, one of the Texas state representatives who organized the flight to Washington.
Voting rights groups are also pointing to a much anticipated but clearly unsatisfactory conference call with Ms. Harris and her team in November.
Representatives from more than 40 organizations joined the call at 4 p.m. According to several attendees, Ms Harris didn’t get on the line until 5:01 p.m., after which she left after speaking for six minutes and not answering any questions.
The White House and an event organizer both said Tuesday that the vice president joined the conversation and left on time and was never asked to answer questions.
Mr Biden’s newfound zeal to push aside voting rights leaves Democrats’ prospects for advancing both bills bleak.
Mr Biden’s strategy thus far has been to gain time for voting rights legislation by taking victories over his other major legislative programs. He personally assured voting attorneys that Democratic holdouts would eventually succumb in the face of continued Republican obstruction. Senate Democrats also chose to give Mr. Manchin time to try to recruit Republican votes, but to no avail.
Mr. Manchin shows no signs of shrinking. He indicated on Tuesday that he had no intention of voting to change the filibuster rule to allow a voting rights bill to pass — not even one he helped negotiate.
“Voting is very important. It’s a foundation of democracy,” he told reporters in Washington. “But to cut the chance for the minority to participate fully, that’s just not who we are.”
Mr. Biden, himself a 36-year Senate veteran, acknowledged the uncertain road ahead.
“I’ve been pretty good at working with senators,” he said. “But man, when you have 51 presidents, it gets harder.”