Voting Rights Bills in Senate

January 18, 2022


The Senate will consider new legislation that could change the way you vote in elections.
But here's why the focus is on the procedure as much as on the legislation.
What To Know. Why It Matters.


  • This week, the Democratic-led Senate is expected to start debate on legislation potentially impacting the way you vote.
  • Two separate pieces of legislation have passed the House of Representatives. To become law, they must pass the Senate.
  • Democrats – and, commonly, the media – describe these bills as “voting rights,” but Republicans argue the bills propose changes that will make elections more vulnerable to inefficiency and fraud, and give too much power to the federal govt. to alter state law.

Broad Overview

John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: Named for former congressman John Lewis, a civil rights leader, this bill would require Justice Dept. “preclearance” for any changes to voting laws in states with a history of discrimination.

Freedom to Vote Act: A collection of changes – incl. making Election Day a national holiday, requiring states to allow early voting, allowing mail-in voting with fewer exceptions, and requiring states to accept more forms of ID for voting.

What Happens:

  • When a bill comes up in the Senate, a series of procedures take place – including debate between lawmakers.
  • Debate ends if at least 60 lawmakers vote to end it. A bill can then pass with a simple majority (51).
  • While Democrats have enough votes to pass the combined bills (with the help of VP Harris), they do not have enough support to change the practice of needing 60 votes to end debate – also called the “filibuster.”
"While I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country."

Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) doesn’t want to end this procedural debate. Some argue dropping the filibuster will stop the Senate’s deadlock over legislation – a product of fierce partisanship. Others argue it will set a precarious precedent; whichever party is in power will effectively be able to pass legislation without first garnering enough votes to end debate.

The two bills that passed the House of Representatives have been combined into one larger bill which will be considered by the Senate, but the chance of Democrats voting to change a key procedural rule to allow this legislation to move forward remains slim. And without the ability to end debate, the bill would not proceed to a vote. Could the bill(s) change or evolve, and try again? Certainly.

The Senate is set to debate voting rights. Here’s what the bills would do

On MLK Day, King III implores Senate to act on voting rights

Sinema, Manchin slammed as Senate begins voting bill debate

by Jenna Lee,