For Voting Rights Advocates, a ‘Once in a Generation Moment’ Looms
State and national voting-rights advocates are waging the most consequential political struggle over access to the ballot since the civil rights era, a fight increasingly focused on a far-reaching federal overhaul of election rules in a last-ditch bid to offset a wave of voting restrictions sweeping Republican-controlled state legislatures. The federal voting bill, which passed in the House this month with only Democratic support, includes a landmark national expansion of voting rights, an end to partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts and new transparency requirements on the flood of dark money financing elections that would override the rash of new state laws. The energy in support for it radiates from well-financed veteran organizers to unpaid volunteers, many who were called to political activism after former President Donald J. Trump’s upset win in 2016. It is engaging Democrats in Washington and voting rights activists in crucial states from Georgia to Iowa to West Virginia to Arizona — some facing rollbacks in access to the ballot, some with senators who will play pivotal roles and some with both. But after approval of the Democratic bill in the House, the campaign to pass the For the People Act, designated Senate Bill 1, increasingly appears to be on a collision course with the filibuster. The rule requires 60 votes for passage of most legislation in a bitterly divided Senate, meaning that Republicans can kill the voting bill and scores of other liberal priorities despite unified Democratic control of Washington. To succeed, Democrats will have to convince a handful of moderate holdouts to change the rules, at least for this legislation, with the likelihood that a single defection in their own party would doom their efforts. It is a daunting path with no margin for error, but activists believe the costs for failure, given the Republican limits on voting, would be so high that some accommodation on the filibuster could become inevitable. Two left-leaning elections groups, the advocacy arm of End Citizens United and Let America Vote along with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, plan this week to announce an infusion of $30 million to try to hasten the groundswell. The money will fund paid advertising in at least a dozen states and finance organizers to target Democratic and Republican swing senators in six of them.