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November 03, 2021

Senator King Shares Concern After Most of Senate Minority Blocks Debate on Voting Rights

Senator King expresses frustration with partisan blockade, lack of negotiation to protect access to ballot

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today expressed his continued frustration with the Senate minority’s nearly unanimous refusal to protect the right to vote for all Americans, after the vast majority of his Republican Senate colleagues voted against opening debate on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The legislation, named in honor of the late civil rights hero, is designed to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act and curb voter suppression efforts underway in state legislatures. The vote’s failure to advance through the Senate comes shortly after Senate Republicans blocked the Freedom to Vote Act, a bill co-led by Senator King to improve access to the ballot for all Americans and advance commonsense election integrity reforms.

“In 2006, the Senate voted 98 to 0 to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act – because each member of the Senate, regardless of party, recognized that access to the ballot is fundamental to American democracy. Only 15 years later, the support for voting rights that once was unanimous has become divisive -- and it seems that most of my Republican colleagues have decided to pick their voters rather than have voters pick them,” said Senator King. “Around the country, we are seeing states enact burdensome voting laws that will make it harder for many Americans to exercise their right to vote – and all indications are that the laws will disproportionately affect communities of color, who have long been denied this right through some device or another. Yet somehow, 49 of my colleagues have decided this is not a problem that requires solving.

“It’s worth noting that the vote today was not on the merits of the bill or on proposed amendments, but was a vote against even bringing the bill up for debate. If this wholesale opposition was a prelude to negotiations on a bipartisan compromise, I could understand it – but instead, I have heard no interest whatsoever from the Republican conference in even discussing this vital issue, let alone proposing their own ideas in pursuit of an agreement.

“I am beyond frustrated by the unwillingness of my colleagues to step up and negotiate in good faith to protect the foundation of our system of self-government, not just for today but for future generations of Americans. This is the third voting rights bill that they have rejected out of hand, without even an attempt to find common ground. If we cannot come together to protect the fundamental practice of democracy, where else could common ground exist? I am an eternal optimist, who will continue working for a compromise – but at some point, I feel I must believe my colleagues when their actions make clear that they have no interest in safeguarding the democratic process. If that is the case, I will explore any other feasible alternative to restore our democracy and carry on the legacy left behind by the great John Lewis and so many others.”

In 2013, the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted critical voter protections within the Voting Rights Act, eroding the federal government’s ability to prevent discriminatory changes to state voting laws and procedures.  In the wake of Shelby County, states across the country unleashed a torrent of voter suppression schemes that have systematically disenfranchised minority voters.  These patently discriminatory efforts to restrict access to the ballot box undermine the progress and equality that John Lewis fought hard over the decades to achieve, from his time as a civil rights movement leader to his tenure in Congress.  The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore and modernize the Voting Rights Act, as well as provide the federal government with other critical tools to combat what has become a full-fledged assault on Americans’ right to vote.

Senator King is committed to increase voter trust and promote access to the ballot for all registered voters. Last month, he delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor urging action on voting rights , stating that we are currently “at a hinge of history” that will determine the future of the American experiment in self-government. In addition to the Freedom to Vote Act, Senator King cosponsored the For the People Act and Senator Jon Ossoff’s (D-Ga.) Right to Vote Act, which would establish a first-ever statutory right to vote in federal elections — protecting U.S. citizens from laws that make it harder to cast a ballot. He has also reintroduced the Real Time Transparency Act, which would require that all political contributions of $1,000 or more be filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) within 48 hours, and again cosponsored the Sunlight for Unaccountable Non-Profits (SUN) Act, which would require the IRS to publish the names of any donors who give more than $5,000 to tax-exempt political organizations. In February, Senator King cosponsored the Spotlight Act, which aims to identify the dark money political donors that seek to influence political debate anonymously.

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