Black Democrats are urging the party to shift its voting rights

Still, several Democrats this week acknowledged that the voting-only bill, named after Lewis, has a better chance of making it to President Joe Biden’s office. That bill has more Democratic backing and an outside chance to win over a few Republicans, based on previous votes to re-authorize the Voting Rights Act.

And the stakes couldn’t be higher for Biden’s party as they look for a way to repulse the GOP-led voter crackdown in state legislatures ahead of next November’s midterms.

‘I definitely think we should focus on [the Lewis bill] and voting rights, ”said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), A member of the CBC. “You would think that would be a good opportunity for a handful of Democratic senators who want to keep the filibuster [to say] ‘Yes, we can do it with this John Lewis right to vote [Act]. ”

A big question surrounding a possible shift of focus to the Lewis bill is the timing of the consideration. The House has already passed the large-scale election bill, and the Senate held a hearing on it this week, but senior Democrats are still working on revisions to the voting-only bill named after the late Georgian civil rights icon.

Those changes to the Lewis measure could push a vote back to late summer or early fall at the earliest, according to several lawmakers and aides. Some in the caucus are discussing a possible vote next year.

But CBC members say they want to act quickly. Their sense of urgency is in part because states will receive redistributive data from the Census Bureau over the summer to use to create new maps for House districts. If the Democrats’ Lewis Bill – which would restore important parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – isn’t passed by then, certain states won’t need to get pre-approval for their electoral cards confirming the absence of racial discrimination.

That protection was lifted after the Supreme Court dropped the so-called pre-approval formula of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. That decision allowed many states to change their electoral laws without prior federal approval, including several Southern states that have been criticized by voting advocates. . Some black lawmakers said Congress should get the voting rights legislation to Biden by September, as most states will start issuing new cards around that time, while others are already starting the process.

“If you want to play [Republican] hands, you do nothing at all and let them pass redistribution cards that absolutely don’t need to be cleared beforehand, where they can do whatever they want, and they can discriminate at will. Or you up your game and do what needs to be done, ”said Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas).

Veasey said the passing of the broader Democratic Election Reform Act and the more limited restoration of the Civil Rights-era law, named after Lewis, are “equally important,” but only the latest bill has a real deadline. Rights-only bill, he said, “you’re basically giving them the green light to just go ahead and discriminate against black and Hispanic voters.”

The measure to restore the right to vote was passed by Parliament in a largely party-line vote last congress, but will be scrutinized this year as Democrats control both chambers.

The bill must be airtight, according to several lawmakers, as they want it to survive anticipated legal challenges in states. Members of the CBC are now working with leaders of two panels that have jurisdiction over electoral matters – the House Administration Committee and House Judiciary Committee – to support the language of the Lewis bill.

“The [Supreme] The court is calling on us to update the formula and that’s what we’re trying to do, ”said Rep. GK Butterfield (DN.C.), a CBC member who chairs the House Administration subcommittee that oversees federal elections. “You can’t just snap your fingers and update a formula. You have to gather evidence ”before a new version of the bill is released, he added.

Butterfield, a former CBC chairman, said his subcommittee would aim to finish developing a new pre-clearing formula by June 30. Lawmakers say they are taking the time to make a strong case for an updated formula to ensure that any new law can pass is not struck down by the Supreme Court again.

“I think we have more work to do to respond to the Supreme Court order,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Also a former chairman of the CBC, referring to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling calling on Congress to develop a new pre-approval formula.

But with the recent upsurge in voter suppression efforts across the country, Bass added, “I don’t know how much of a record you need.”

Shifting the focus from the broader HR 1, which has grumbled to election administrators and pundits about some of its voting box mandates, would mark a major strategic adjustment for Democrats. But some of them personally believe that the voting-only bill will be an easier lift than HR 1, though they continue to support the ethos of the larger bill.

And some in the House Democratic Caucus have already raised their own concerns with HR1. That bill’s proposed redistribution commission sparked complaints from several CBC members who feared the proposed changes could be used by GOP-controlled lawmakers to undermine black voters’ access to voting, although most end up hitting the law on the floor supported.

Democratic aides close to the talks on the legislation insist that any concerns can be addressed in hypothetical conference calls.

Activists have insisted that HR 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which have progressed so far on a much slower timetable, are not one-or-the-other and should both be passed. Some members of the CBC have filed a similar case.

For example, CBC Chairman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said she still wanted HR 1 signed into law, “and then we’ll get ready to begin our hearings on” the Lewis law. Bass said a boost to the vote A rights-only bill should come “in addition” to promoting broader electoral law.

And first-term representative Mondaire Jones (DN.Y.), another CBC member, said the larger election reform bill is his top priority in Congress this year. “It’s fundamental. It is democracy-conserving legislation, ”he said.

Their optimism doesn’t quite reach the Capitol: HR 1 faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

While 49 out of 50 Democratic senators have signed up, Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) remains unconvinced. In late March, Manchin urged Democrats to distance themselves from the bill and take an approach that “transcends partiality,” with a smaller proposal that he said could gain the support of Republican senators. The Senate committee was nonetheless set to mark the broader bill on May 11.

The bill to restore the right to vote called Lewis was only passed last congress. But the Senate version had support from moderates like Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) And Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

With the GOP in control of the Senate at the time, the voting rights bill never came up for discussion.

Zach Montellaro and Olivia Beavers contributed to this story.