John Lewis Voting Rights Act

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John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn Act to amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to revise the criteria for determining which States and political subdivisions are subject to section 4 of the Act, and for other purposes.
Sponsored byHouse: Terri Sewell (D-AL)
Senate: Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Number of co-sponsorsHouse: 223
Senate: 48
Citations
Public law52 USC Ch. 103
Codification
Acts affectedVoting Rights Act of 1965
Legislative history

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (H.R. 4) is proposed legislation that would restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, certain portions of which were struck down by two Supreme Court decisions of Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.[1][2] Particularly, it would restore the Voting Rights Act's requirement that certain states pre-clear certain changes to their voting laws with the federal government.[3] It was re-introduced in the 117th Congress, and is named after late Georgia Representative and voting rights activist John Lewis.

On August 24, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill by a margin of 219–212.[4] On November 3, 2021, the bill failed to pass the Senate after failing to get the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture.[5] A second attempt to pass the act as part of a combined bill with the Freedom to Vote Act failed on January 19, 2022, where after again falling short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, a vote to exempt the bill from the senate filibuster also failed.[6]

Representative Terri Sewell and John Lewis in 2017 on the 4th anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision

Background[edit]

Shelby County v. Holder[edit]

On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (also known as the VRA) in a 5–4 decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder. Specifically, the court struck down Section 4(b) of the VRA because of the formula it provided to determine which states were subjected to Section 5's federal pre-clearance requirement. Invalidating section 4(b) made it so that the federal pre-clearance requirement in Section 5 could not function until a new formula was created to replace the one that was struck down.[7][8]

Section 5 of the VRA states that eligible districts needed to seek approval from the federal government to implement certain changes to election laws and procedures, and Section 4(b) defines eligible districts as places that had voting tests in place as of November 1, 1964 and a turnout of less than 50% in the 1964 presidential election.[9] To receive clearance for new election procedures, the district would have to prove to either a three judge panel of a Washington, D.C. court or the U.S. Attorney General that the new procedure would not negatively impact the right to vote on the basis of race or other minority status.[7] After the VRA was enacted, it caused an increase in minority turnout for elections.[10]

Voting restrictions post-Shelby decision[edit]

The Supreme Court ruling allowed many states to begin putting in new restrictive laws regarding the right to vote. Texas had announced it would put in place a strict voter I.D. law less than 24 hours after the Supreme Court decision was announced.[a][11] Many other states that were previously not allowed to enact voter I.D. laws because of the VRA's federal pre-clearance requirement were able to do so.[12]

The Supreme Court decision has also led to an increase in voters being purged from voter rolls.[13] Research from the Brennan Center suggests that some 2 million more people were purged from voter rolls between 2012 and 2016 than would have been if Section 5 of the VRA had been left in place.[14][15]

Notably, North Carolina passed HB 589,[b] a bill which put in a strict photo I.D. requirement, eliminated same-day voting registration, and shortened the early voting period, among other restrictive policies.[16] One policy in particular banned early voting on Sundays, which North Carolina admitted in court was because counties that offered it were likely to have higher black populations.[17][18] HB 589 was struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on the basis that the law was designed to "target African-Americans with almost surgical precision".[19][20][21][22][23]

For the U.S. Government to be able to prevent more restrictive laws from being passed without federal pre-clearance, it would need to find a new formula for the Voting Rights Act that would satisfy the Shelby County v. Holder decision, which is what the John Lewis Voting Rights Act was written to do.[24]

Voting restrictions after the 2020 election[edit]

After the 2020 Presidential Election and efforts to overturn it, many Republican-controlled state legislatures began passing bills that made it harder to vote, and that many people alleged would disproportionately deter racial minorities from voting.[25][26][27][28][29][30]

Key provisions[edit]

Updates to Section 2[edit]

The first provision in the John Lewis Voting Rights Act strengthens voter protections in Section 2 in response to Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.

Broadening the scope of the courts[edit]

The next portion in the John Lewis Voting Rights Act broadens cases in which the U.S. Attorney General may send federal observers to jurisdictions the courts have deemed necessary, as well as allow for the courts to block all new election policy in a wider range of circumstances. It does so by amending applicable portions of the VRA that say "violations of the 14th and 15th Amendment" to also include "violations of this Act, or violations of any Federal law that prohibits discrimination in voting on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”[31][32]

Restoring federal pre-clearance[edit]

The next portion of the act reinstates the federal pre-clearance requirement for new election procedures in certain states by creating a new formula that satisfies the Shelby decision. The act's new formula would subject jurisdictions that meet these criteria to the requirement:

  1. Any state that has had 15 or more voting rights violations within the last 25 years.
  2. Any state that has had 10 or more voting rights violations and at least 1 of those violations were committed by the state itself (as opposed to a jurisdiction within the state) within the last 25 years.
  3. Any subdivision in a state that has had 3 or more voting rights violations within the last 25 years would also be subject to the requirement.[31]

The act counts any of the following as a voting rights violation:

  1. A standing court ruling that has found denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race, color, or being in a "language minority group" in a way that violates the 14th or 15th amendments anywhere within the state or subdivision.
  2. A standing court decision that has found that an election law or procedure that was either enacted or would have been enacted would have abridged the right to vote on account of race, color, or being in a "language minority group" in a way that violates the act itself anywhere in a state or subdivision.
  3. A standing court decision that denied a declaratory request and prevented any new election policy or procedure from taking effect anywhere within the state or subdivision.
  4. The Attorney General has a standing objection that prevented any new election policy or procedure from taking effect anywhere within the state or subdivision.
  5. A settlement or consent decree caused the state or subdivision to alter or abandon a voting policy, if the policy was challenged because it abridged the right to vote on the account of race, color, or "membership in a language minority" in a way that violates the act itself or the 14th or 15th amendments.[31]

The act states that the Attorney General will make the determinations as early as can be practiced within a calendar year, and keep an updated list of all voting rights violations. The determination becomes effective when it is published in the Federal Register.[31]

Representatives Terri Sewell, John Lewis, and Judy Chu speak on the bill in 2017
Terri Sewell speaks at a Restore the Vote press conference in 2015
Comparison of states requiring pre-clearance at the time of the Shelby County decision with those which would require it under the John Lewis Voting Rights Act
State Covered by VRA of 1965[33] Covered by John Lewis VRA[c][34]
Alabama As a whole As a whole
Alaska As a whole Not covered
Arizona As a whole Not covered
California Certain counties As a whole
Florida Certain counties As a whole
Georgia As a whole As a whole
Louisiana As a whole As a whole
Michigan Certain townships Not covered
Mississippi As a whole As a whole
New York Certain counties As a whole
North Carolina Certain counties As a whole
South Dakota Certain counties Not covered
South Carolina As a whole As a whole
Texas As a whole As a whole
Virginia As a whole As a whole

Expanding covered practices[edit]

The bill would also expand the changes to election procedure that would require federal pre-clearance, occasionally with unique standards for being subject to the requirement (i.e. the percentage of the population that is considered a racial minority).[31]

Election seats and jurisdiction boundary changes[edit]

Any state or subdivision that has either:

  1. Two or more racial or language minorities that each represent 20% or more of the voting-age population.
  2. A single language minority that represents 20% or more of the voting-age population on Native-American lands that are located entirely or partially in the state or subdivision.

Must get federal pre-clearance before implementing any of the following policies:

  1. Changes to the number of seats that are elected at-large in the state or subdivision.
  2. Conversion of one or more seats from a single-member district to one or more at-large districts or to multi-member districts.
  3. Any change (or series of changes) to the boundaries of a jurisdiction that reduces by 3 or more percentage points the proportion of the voting-age population of any one racial or language minority group.[31]

Redistricting[edit]

Any change to the boundaries of electoral districts in a state or subdivision would need federal pre-clearance if they meet either of the criteria:

  1. The state or subdivision had a population increase of 10,000 or more in any racial or language minority since the previous census.
  2. Any racial or language minority sees an increase of at least 20% of the size of the voting age population since the previous census.[31]

Voter I.D. requirements[edit]

Any change to voter I.D. requirements that is more strict than the one described in the Help America Vote Act, or any change that will make voter I.D. requirements more stringent than on the day the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is enacted, would be required to seek federal pre-clearance before being implemented.[31]

Multi-lingual voting materials[edit]

Any alteration that reduces the amount of multi-lingual voting materials or changes the way in which multi-lingual voting materials are given out to people would need to seek federal pre-clearance, unless a similar alteration occurs in the English voting materials for an election.[31]

Voting locations and voting opportunities[edit]

Any change that would reduce, relocate, or consolidate voting locations (including early, absentee, and election day voting locations), or reduce the number of days or hours of early voting on Sundays would be subjected to the pre-clearance requirement if they meet either of these criteria:

  1. Census data finds that two or more racial or language minority groups each make up 20% of the voting age population in the jurisdiction.
  2. Census data finds that 20% of the voting-age population on a Native-Americans land is in one language minority group.[31]

Voter roll maintenance[edit]

Any change to election policy that adds a new reason to remove a person from a voter roll or puts in place a new process to remove a person from the voter roll must seek federal pre-clearance (if it is a jurisdiction within the state):

  1. Two racial or language minorities make up 20% of the population.
  2. 20% of the population is a single language minority on Native-American lands.

And if the state itself is imposing such a change then it must seek pre-clearance if:

  1. The population of the state contains 2 minorities that make up 20% of the population.
  2. A subdivision in the state meets the same requirements, but the subdivision itself would be the only place affected.[31]

Pre-clearance for states already covered[edit]

For the states that already met the requirements for federal pre-clearance under the new formula provided, the bill states that they will also have to seek approval for any new procedure under the new covered practices. It allows states that are covered to seek approval from a three-judge panel or the Attorney General, and allows any appeals of either of these to go to the Supreme Court.[31]

Enforcement[edit]

The bill allows both the Attorney General or any ordinary person to sue a state if they believe that they are avoiding federal pre-clearance. The act says that a three judge panel will determine if a policy needs federal pre-clearance, and until the court has made that determination, the policy is blocked from going into effect.[31]

Reactions and statements[edit]

External video
video icon President Joe Biden advises Congress to pass John Lewis Voting Rights Act

Support[edit]

The bill has been supported by Senators Raphael Warnock (who used to his first floor speech to advocate for its passage),[35][36] and Joe Manchin.[d][37][38] President Joe Biden advocated for the passage of the bill in his first address to Congress.[39][40]

In July 2021, over 150 companies signed a letter supporting the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, including Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, PepsiCo, IKEA, Nestlé USA, Macy's, and Target, among many others.[41][42]

Opposition[edit]

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed opposition to passage of the bill, and said that its passage is "unnecessary" because there is currently "no threat to the voting rights law".[43][44] Republicans have argued that the act is an attempt to federalize control of state elections to the Democrats' advantage.[45][46]

Legislative history[edit]

Summary[edit]

Congress Short title Bill number(s) Date introduced Sponsor(s) # of cosponsors Latest status
114th Congress Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 H.R. 2867 June 24, 2015 Terri Sewell 179 Died in Committee.
115th Congress Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2017 H.R. 2978 June 21, 2017 Terri Sewell 193 Died in Committee.
116th Congress John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020 H.R. 4 February 26, 2019 Terri Sewell 229 Passed the House.
John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act S. 4263 July 22, 2020 Patrick Leahy 47 Died in Committee.
117th Congress John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 H.R. 4 August 17, 2021 Terri Sewell 223 Passed the House.
S. 4 October 5, 2021 Patrick Leahy 48 Cloture not invoked.
Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act H.R. 5746 October 27, 2021 Don Beyer 5 Cloture not invoked.

116th Congress[edit]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at the funeral service for John Lewis

The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Terri Sewell on February 26, 2019, as H.R. 4. Originally planned to have been included in the For the People Act, Democratic leadership decided to keep it separate because of anticipated court challenges.[24] The bill had 229 co-sponsors. The bill passed the House of Representatives (228-187) as the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 on December 6, 2019. All Democrats voted in favor of the legislation, and all but one Republican voted against it.

The bill was introduced in the Senate as S.4263 by Senator Patrick Leahy after John Lewis' death in July 2020. The bill received 47 co-sponsors. All Democrats in the Senate had co-sponsored the bill.[e] The only Republican to co-sponsor the bill was Lisa Murkowski. The Senate, which was controlled by Republicans, did not bring the bill up for a vote.

The bill was originally titled the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, but was renamed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act one week after his death in 2020.[47] No senator had introduced the bill into the Senate at the time of his death, so when it was introduced in the Senate, it took his name. The bill had already passed the House of Representatives under its former name before John Lewis's death. H.Con.Res.107 was agreed to in the House to change the short title of the bill to the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.

117th Congress[edit]

The act was introduced in the House on August 17, 2021 by Terri Sewell.[48] It received 223 co-sponsors.[49] The bill passed the House of Representatives on August 24, 2021 (219-212). All Democrats voted in favor of the legislation, and all Republicans voted against it. The bill later failed in the Senate after it was unable to receive enough votes to invoke cloture.[5] A second attempt, where Democrats embedded the act into a combined bill with the Freedom to Vote Act, also failed. Democrats then attempted to change the rules to exempt the bill from the filibuster, but Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema opposed the change.[50][6]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Strict", meaning that a voter would have to present (any) government-issued ID at a polling place before being allowed to cast a ballot.
  2. ^ North Carolina was not covered as a whole by the VRA. However, North Carolina would be covered as a whole under the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
  3. ^ John Lewis VRA coverage predictions are for “states as a whole” only, meaning this prediction does not consider subdivisions in a state that may be required to comply.
  4. ^ Every Senate Democrat had also shown support for the bill in 2020 by having co-sponsored it, but these are some of the most outspoken advocates for passage.
  5. ^ This assessment counts the bill's original sponsor, Patrick Leahy.

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Millhiser, Ian (July 21, 2021). "How America lost its commitment to the right to vote". Vox. Archived from the original on August 19, 2021. Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  3. ^ Cava, Marco della (July 25, 2020). "Activists working in John Lewis' shadow warn about voter suppression ahead of November vote". USA TODAY. Archived from the original on January 7, 2021. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
  4. ^ Summers, Juana (August 24, 2021). "The House Has Passed a Bill to Restore the Voting Rights Act". NPR. Archived from the original on August 28, 2021. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  5. ^ a b "John Lewis Voting Rights Act Fails to Pass Senate". Forbes. Archived from the original on November 20, 2021. Retrieved November 20, 2021.
  6. ^ a b Clare Foran, Ali Zaslav and Ted Barrett. "Senate Democrats suffer defeat on voting rights after vote to change rules fails". CNN. Retrieved February 3, 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Shelby County v. Holder". Oyez. Archived from the original on March 21, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  8. ^ Liptak, Adam (June 25, 2013). "Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on May 25, 2019. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  9. ^ "Section 4 Of The Voting Rights Act". www.justice.gov. August 6, 2015. Archived from the original on March 24, 2021. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  10. ^ Ang, Desmond (July 2019). "Do 40-Year-Old Facts Still Matter? Long-Run Effects of Federal Oversight under the Voting Rights Act". American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. 11 (3): 1–53. doi:10.1257/app.20170572. ISSN 1945-7782.
  11. ^ "Texas rushes ahead with voter ID law after supreme court decision". the Guardian. June 25, 2013. Archived from the original on April 15, 2021. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  12. ^ "The Effects of Shelby County v. Holder | Brennan Center for Justice". www.brennancenter.org. Archived from the original on March 16, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  13. ^ Feder, Catalina; Miller, Michael G. (November 1, 2020). "Voter Purges After Shelby: Part of Special Symposium on Election Sciences". American Politics Research. 48 (6): 687–692. doi:10.1177/1532673X20916426. ISSN 1532-673X. S2CID 221131969. Archived from the original on January 9, 2022. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  14. ^ "Purges: A Growing Threat to the Right to Vote". www.brennancenter.org. Archived from the original on March 25, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
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  16. ^ "Voter Information Verification Act" (PDF). North Carolina General Assembly. HB 589 (2013-2014). Archived (PDF) from the original on April 26, 2021. Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  17. ^ "Did North Carolina Admit to Targeting Black Voters with a 'Voter ID' Law?". Snopes.com. Archived from the original on January 9, 2022. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  18. ^ "United States v. North Carolina". United States Department of Justice. July 29, 2016. p. 39. Archived from the original on November 1, 2020. Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  19. ^ "United States v. North Carolina". The United States Department of Justice. July 29, 2016. p. 11. Archived from the original on November 1, 2020. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  20. ^ Domonoske, Camila (July 29, 2016). "U.S. Appeals Court Strikes Down North Carolina's Voter ID Law". NPR. Archived from the original on March 9, 2021. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  21. ^ Wines, Michael; Blinder, Alan (July 29, 2016). "Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down North Carolina Voter ID Requirement". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on March 19, 2021. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  22. ^ Gerstein, Josh. "Court strikes down North Carolina voter ID law". POLITICO. Archived from the original on May 6, 2021. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  23. ^ Harte, Julia; Sullivan, Andy (July 29, 2016). "U.S. court strikes down North Carolina voter ID law". Reuters. Archived from the original on July 18, 2021. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  24. ^ a b Nilsen, Ella (December 6, 2019). "The House has passed a bill to restore key parts of the Voting Rights Act". Vox. Archived from the original on December 7, 2019. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  25. ^ Beauchamp, Zack (April 6, 2021). "Yes, the Georgia election law is that bad". Vox. Archived from the original on May 31, 2021. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
  26. ^ Newkirk II, Vann R. (July 17, 2018). "Voter Suppression Is Warping Democracy". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on September 21, 2020. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
  27. ^ "Texas Republicans' sweeping voting restrictions bill passes state Senate". www.cbsnews.com. Archived from the original on May 30, 2021. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
  28. ^ Rakich, Nathaniel (May 11, 2021). "Where Republicans Have Made It Harder To Vote (So Far)". FiveThirtyEight. Archived from the original on June 1, 2021. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
  29. ^ "Opinion | How the Supreme Court paved the way for Texas to target Black and brown voters". NBC News. Archived from the original on June 7, 2021. Retrieved June 7, 2021.
  30. ^ "State and local party leaders in Bell County weigh in on Senate Bill 7". KXXV. June 2, 2021. Archived from the original on June 7, 2021. Retrieved June 7, 2021.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Sewell, Terri A. (July 27, 2020). "H.R.4 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019". www.congress.gov. Archived from the original on March 17, 2021. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  32. ^ "[USC02] 52 USC 10302: Proceeding to enforce the right to vote". uscode.house.gov. Archived from the original on April 16, 2021. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  33. ^ "Jurisdictions Previously Covered By Section 5". United States Department of Justice. August 6, 2015. Archived from the original on May 4, 2021. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  34. ^ "The states facing federal preclearance under proposed Voting Rights Act fix". Institute for Southern Studies. March 13, 2019. Archived from the original on May 3, 2021. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  35. ^ "In Honor of John Lewis, Warnock Calls on Congress, Fellow Candidates to Restore the Voting Rights Act". Warnock for Georgia. July 21, 2020. Archived from the original on July 18, 2021. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  36. ^ Folley, Aris (March 17, 2021). "Warnock uses first Senate floor speech to urge Congress to pass voting rights legislation". TheHill. Archived from the original on June 10, 2021. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  37. ^ "John Lewis voting rights bill faces bleak future in the Senate after McConnell deems it "unnecessary"". www.cbsnews.com. Archived from the original on June 10, 2021. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  38. ^ "Joe Manchin: the conservative Democrat with leverage in a split Senate". the Guardian. January 17, 2021. Archived from the original on June 10, 2021. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  39. ^ Santucci, Jeanine. "Voting rights: Where do the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and For the People Act stand?". USA TODAY. Archived from the original on June 10, 2021. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  40. ^ Greenwood, Max (April 28, 2021). "Biden calls on Congress to pass voting, elections reform bills". TheHill. Archived from the original on June 10, 2021. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  41. ^ "More than 150 companies back update to Voting Rights Act". NBC News. Archived from the original on August 6, 2021. Retrieved August 6, 2021.
  42. ^ "More than 150 companies urge U.S. Congress to pass voting rights act". Reuters. July 14, 2021. Archived from the original on August 6, 2021. Retrieved August 6, 2021.
  43. ^ Daniel Dale. "Fact check: Breaking down Mitch McConnell's spin on the John Lewis voting rights bill". CNN. Archived from the original on August 6, 2021. Retrieved August 6, 2021.
  44. ^ Homan, Timothy R. (June 8, 2021). "McConnell: John Lewis voting rights bill 'unnecessary'". TheHill. Archived from the original on August 6, 2021. Retrieved August 6, 2021.
  45. ^ Behrmann, Savannah (November 3, 2021). "Republicans block John Lewis Voting Rights Act in Senate vote". USA Today. Retrieved January 19, 2022.
  46. ^ Allison, Natalie (September 15, 2021). "Tennessee attorney general joins opposition to John Lewis Voting Rights Act". The Tennessean. Retrieved January 19, 2022.
  47. ^ "John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020". NAACP. July 31, 2020. Archived from the original on March 1, 2021. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  48. ^ Sewell, Terri A. (August 17, 2021). "H.R.4 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021". www.congress.gov. Archived from the original on August 19, 2021. Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  49. ^ Sewell, Terri A. (August 24, 2021). "Cosponsors - H.R.4 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021". www.congress.gov. Archived from the original on August 19, 2021. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  50. ^ Kim, Caitlyn (January 12, 2022). "Democrats plan a procedural maneuver to open Senate debate on voting rights bills". NPR. Retrieved February 3, 2022.