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Democrats renew push for voter protections on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington

A group of Democrats has announced a package of bills to "boost free and fair access to the ballot." But the partisan effort is unlikely to pass in the divided Congress.
Image: A voter walks toward the entrance of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Great Lakes Bay Region to cast their ballot in Bay City, Mich., during Election Day on Nov. 3, 2020.
A voter walks toward the entrance of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Great Lakes Bay Region in Bay City, Mich., to cast a ballot on Nov. 3, 2020.Kaytie Boomer / The Bay City Times via AP file

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats hope to revive a legislative effort to pass voter protections into law Monday, the 60th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington.

After several failed attempts to bolster voting rights on the federal level in a divided Congress, Democratic Rep. Nikema Williams, who was elected to the late civil rights leader John Lewis’ congressional seat in Georgia, has touted the latest push as “one of the most comprehensive voting rights legislative packages in congressional history,” according to a statement first shared with NBC News.

Williams, who co-chairs the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, has partnered with other Democrats in the House, as well as prominent Senate Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, to announce a package of eight bills — which includes new legislation to provide voter protections and accessibility for unhoused people, among other bills that have been previously introduced.

She said in the statement that the “legislative package takes a major step to ensuring everyone has free and fair access to the ballot,” adding that as “Jim Crow 2.0 continues to rise across the country, we urgently need comprehensive national standards to protect voting rights for everyone — no matter your ZIP Code, no matter your bank account.” 

Williams represents metropolitan Atlanta, where former President Donald Trump was indicted this month on felony charges in connection with efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the battleground state. 

Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republican officials have repeatedly pushed back against Trump’s claims and insisted that the 2020 presidential election “was not stolen" in Georgia.

It was the second time Trump had been charged this month with trying to interfere with the election, after special counsel Jack Smith indicted him on federal charges of conspiring to defraud the U.S. and trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden.

Kemp signed an elections overhaul bill into law in 2021. He insisted it expanded ballot access, but it drew ire from Democrats, including Williams, who said it disproportionately targets people of color.

Her package would expand ballot access for non-English speakers and disenfranchised groups, improve voting-by-mail standards, set guidelines for voter wait times and mandate protected time off for all workers on Election Day. 

Included in the effort is the Freedom to Vote Act, a measure re-introduced this summer by Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House that would establish national voting standards and create protections for election officials.

The legislation would counter another bill that was introduced by House Republicans, which proponents said would protect political speech, urge states to adopt voter ID mandates, restrict federal funds to states that allow noncitizens to vote and override some Washington, D.C., election laws. Critics argued that the GOP bill would disenfranchise voters of color and protect wealthy donors.

With Republicans and Democrats having razor-thin majorities in the House and the Senate, respectively, it's unlikely that either partisan package could pass in the current Congress.

“Make no mistake: Democrats are going to keep fighting,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters last month. “We have to be ready to pass this legislation right out of the gate, at the soonest possible opportunity.”