Senate Democrats will make another, likely futile, attempt to take up voting rights legislation in the coming days before the chamber leaves Washington for a summer recess, a sign that party leaders remain determined to try to break a logjam on the issue as Republican-led states lock in new ballot restrictions.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, has privately told senators to expect additional votes on the matter on the Senate’s way out of town, according to Democrats familiar with the private discussions, who described them on the condition of anonymity. The development is welcome news for voting rights activists, who have been worried that Democrats’ monthslong push to enact a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill would eclipse voting rights and sap any appetite for an aggressive bid to try to steamroll Republicans and act on it unilaterally.
But the party’s endgame remains far from clear. Republicans have blocked Democrats’ marquee voting rights legislation once with a filibuster, and have the votes to do so again. As such, Democrats’ only conceivable path forward would require changing the Senate’s filibuster rule. Doing so would require the support of all of their members, including some swing-vote Democrats, like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are adamantly opposed.
Democrats are up against an increasingly daunting deadline to act. Lawyers have warned party leaders that any election changes would likely have to take effect in the next month to impact the 2022 balloting. If not, Democrats will be competing in several swing states based on Republican-written rules that they fear will make it harder to turn out voters of color, a key constituency.
“There is a deep sense of urgency among many of us in the caucus,” said Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia. “We are witnessing an unabashed assault on voting rights — not just suppression, but an effort to overthrow the results at the local level. And it would be irresponsible for us not to do everything we can to address that.”
The Washington Post earlier reported on Mr. Schumer’s private comments on the matter.
Mr. Warnock, who is running for election next fall, is preparing to compete in a state where Republicans moved decisively this spring to make mail-in voting more difficult, constrain early voting and shift power over elections toward the G.O.P.-led legislature. In an interview, Mr. Warnock said he was all for passing an infrastructure bill, but called it a “mistake” to do so without addressing “the infrastructure of our democracy.”
He and other progressives still hope that they can prevail on moderate holdouts like Mr. Manchin to alter the Senate rules. And they view additional votes on the Senate floor as a key to making their case that Republicans are not willing to find common ground.
As of Thursday, senior Democrats were still trying to hash out what exactly they would vote on in the coming days. Mr. Schumer met on Wednesday with a group of senators working on a scaled-back version of the For the People Act, the sprawling elections overhaul bill that Senate Republicans blocked in June. They believed they could reach agreement among themselves within days.
Party leaders expect their new bill will win support from all 50 Democrats and independents in the Senate, in part by lopping off ethics provisions included in the original bill, scaling back its mandates for automatic voter registration, excising a public campaign financing system for senators and backing off an attempt to change the composition of the Federal Election Commission in favor of other changes.
Democrats are still assembling a second voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which could come up for a vote both in the House and the Senate in the fall. It would restore key enforcement powers under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.