Voting rights bill failure presents new challenges for supporters

Former NAACP West Palm Beach branch president calls it 'historic blow to civil rights'
'Vote Here' signs stacked in front of each other at Palm Beach County tabulation center
Posted at 2:59 PM, Jan 20, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A sweeping elections and voting rights bill collapsed Wednesday night on Capitol Hill, an effort by Democrats to pass a major overhaul before the November elections.

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act would have created national automatic voter registration, allowed all voters to cast ballots by mail and weakened voter ID laws.

It also would have banned partisan gerrymandering and forced "dark money" groups to disclose their major donors.

Democrats needed to change the filibuster rules in order to pass the voting bill, but that failed following opposition from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.

Congress Voting Bills
In this image from Senate Television, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Senate Television via AP)

The vote was 52-48 with Manchin and Sinema joining all GOP senators. 

Democrats and civil rights groups argued that voting legislation was vital for protecting democracy.

The legislation was a response to what voting advocates said is an effort by Florida and other Republican-led states to make it harder for Black Americans and others to vote.

Lia Gaines of West Palm Beach was more than disappointed after the vote failed.

"I think this is a historic blow to civil rights," Gaines said.

Lia Gaines, civil right activist, former president of NAACP West Palm Beach branch, discuss failure of Voting Rights Act
Lia Gaines reacts to Congress failing to pass voting rights legislation.

Gaines, a current businesswoman and former NAACP president in West Palm Beach, said the lack of support from any Republicans and two key Democrats will have a lasting effect on the failed bill.

The measure would have set national standards on ballot access and early voting.

"Everyone knows that early voting, absentee, vote by mail and voter ID requirements are key and have a great impact on minority population's ability to vote and elect candidates of choice," Gaines said.

Florida's two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, turned to Twitter to make their case for being against the act.

"It's never been easier to register to vote. It's never been easier to vote in Florida. You can vote early. Anyone can vote by mail," Rubio said in a Twitter video posted Wednesday.

"They're pushing the federal takeover of state elections," Scott said. "Their ideas are too radical to win the approval of voters."

Moving forward, Gaines said this means getting a new message out among minority voters.

"I'm talking about motivating people to vote, and I'm also talking about putting pressure to bear on interests that would maybe make people see things in a different way," Gaines said.

Gaines said that pressure might be similar to the social pressures that occurred in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"We're going to have to use all the political tools and economic and social tools in terms of education to mobilize to get things to change," Gaines said. "That's the only way."

President Joe Biden reacted to Wednesday's vote by saying he was disappointed but "not deterred."