Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says he plans to highlight three Democratic voting rights priorities on Thursday: Restoring a crucial piece of the Voting Rights Act, automatically registering voters and making Washington D.C. a state.
Schumer’s announcement comes after Democrats announced that voting rights would be a top priority after the midterm elections. The first piece of legislation introduced in the Democrat-controlled House contains a wide range of voting reforms, a move intended to signal the party’s commitment to expanding voting rights.
While Democrats acknowledge that their voting rights legislation is unlikely to pass while Republicans control the Senate and White House, they see the bills as an opportunity to underscore the party’s focus and show voters what they would pass if they had power.
Republicans have dominated the national conversation about voting rights in recent years with allegations of voter fraud. While several studies have shown that voter fraud is exceedingly rare, the GOP has been able to stir up fears of it remarkably effectively to justify voting restrictions.
“Denying access to the ballot to any eligible American citizen cuts against the heart of our democracy — the right to vote,” Schumer said in a statement.
The Senate minority leader announced Democrats’ priorities on the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the 1965 voting rights March in Selma, Alabama, where police beat civil rights activists on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Schumer is expected to highlight legislation that would restore a formula to the Voting Rights Act requiring certain jurisdictions to get their voting changes cleared by the federal government before they go into effect. The landmark 1965 law had a formula in place until 2013, but the Supreme Court struck it down that year, saying it was outdated and unconstitutional.
The bill would require any state to be put under preclearance if it has at least 15 voting rights violations over a 25-year period. If the state as a whole, as opposed to smaller jurisdictions within it, has a voting rights violation, it would need just 10 violations to be put back under preclearance. Identical legislation was introduced last week in the House.
The law would also require certain practices known to be linked to voting discrimination to be precleared, regardless of where they happen.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has strongly opposed the voting reforms Democrats are proposing, denouncing the proposals as a Democratic “power grab.” He also twisted an incident of election fraud in North Carolina that benefited a Republican candidate and said the reforms Democrats were proposing would lead to more fraud.
The second bill Schumer plans to highlight would require certain state agencies to automatically register voters unless they choose to opt out. Oregon was the first state to implement the practice, called automatic voter registration, in 2015, and Democrats have quickly seized on the idea as a way to expand the franchise. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted a variation of automatic voter registration.
Schumer’s support for D.C. statehood comes as the issue has been gaining momentum among Democrats. The district’s nearly 700,000 residents pay federal taxes but have no representation in Congress. Republicans have generally opposed statehood because it is believed voters would most likely elect Democratic representatives.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) identified it as a leading issue when she launched her campaign, and several other high-profile presidential candidates, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) back it as well.