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Oct. 21, 2021, 11:40 a.m. EDT

Republicans again stop Senate Democrats’ voting-rights legislation in its tracks

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Associated Press

For the third time this year, U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday tried to pass sweeping elections legislation that they tout as a powerful counterweight to new voting restrictions sweeping conservative-controlled states.

And, once again, Republicans blocked them .

But amid the ongoing stalemate, there are signs that Democrats are making headway in their effort to create consensus around changing Senate procedural rules, a key step that could allow them to muscle transformative legislation through the narrowly divided chamber.

From the archives (March 2021): Voting rights intensify as partisan battleground, with Democrats pushing H.R. 1 and Republicans altering election procedures at state level

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, recently eased his longstanding opposition to changing the filibuster rules, which create a 60-vote threshold for most legislation to pass.

“I’ve concluded that democracy itself is more important than any Senate rule,” said King, who acknowledged that weakening the filibuster would likely prove to be a “double-edged sword” under a Republican majority.

In a cable-news interview interview earlier in the week, King had phrased his position more succinctly: “[I]f I have to choose between democracy and a Senate rule, that’s a pretty easy call, I think.”

Democrats still face long odds of passing their bill, now known as the Freedom to Vote Act, which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, excoriated Wednesday as a federal “election takeover scheme.”

But the softening of King’s stance on the filibuster amounts to progress, if incremental, for Senate Democrats as they look to convince others in their caucus to support a rule change.

After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invoked the Reconstruction era following the Civil War, hailing the Northern senators serving at that time for “going it alone” when confronted by “minority obstruction.”

“Members of this body now face a choice,” said Schumer, a New York Democrat. “They can follow in the footsteps of our patriotic predecessors in this chamber. Or they can sit by as the fabric of our democracy unravels before our very eyes.”

The Democrats’ voting bill was first introduced in March in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. It quickly passed the House at a time when Republican-controlled legislatures — many inspired by Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 election — were advancing restrictions in the name of election security that will make it harder to vote and could make the administration of the elections more subject to partisan interference.

From the archives (March 2021): Amid outcry, Georgia governor signs bill restricting voting into law

Also from March: Raphael Warnock says Republican efforts to shift voting practices in Georgia and other states represent Jim Crow revanchism

Trump’s claims of election fraud were widely rejected in the courts, by state officials who certified the results and by his own attorney general.

But initial optimism that the measure would swiftly pass the Senate dissipated after several members of the Democratic caucus, including King, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, among others, made clear their reluctance to change the filibuster rules.

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