WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans filibustered a major voting bill Wednesday that would allow automatic and same-day voter registration and make Election Day a holiday.
The 49-51 vote on the procedural motion was short of the 60 needed to advance the legislation to the next stage, marking the second time this year that Republicans have prevented a Democratic-backed voting bill from moving forward.
The measure, known as the Freedom to Vote Act, had full Democratic support Wednesday after the party scaled back an earlier, more expansive bill to win the backing of centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. All 50 Democratic-voting senators backed the bill, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., changed his vote to "no" to allow him to request another vote in the future, a common procedural maneuver.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had vowed that Republicans would oppose the measure.
"It is my hope and anticipation that none of us will vote for this latest iteration of Democratic efforts to take over how every American votes all over the country," he said Tuesday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the Republican who has been most willing to engage with Democrats over voting rights, explained her vote to block the bill earlier, saying she was more interested in the House-passed John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The Freedom to Vote Act would allow automatic and same-day voter registration and no-excuse mail voting. It would give states flexibility in implementing some provisions, like early voting, and make Election Day a holiday. It also would seek to protect federal election records and insulate nonpartisan state and local election officials from undue interference.
Schumer had said the bill was a "balanced" and "common sense" proposal to protect the right to vote from restrictive state laws, including those inspired by former President Donald Trump's false claims about a stolen election.
"Across the country, the big lie — the big lie — has spread like a cancer," Schumer said Wednesday before the vote. "The Freedom to Vote Act would provide long overdue remedies for all these concerns."
President Joe Biden said in a statement after the vote that the Senate "needs to act to protect the sacred constitutional right to vote, which is under unrelenting assault by proponents of the Big Lie, and Republican Governors, Secretaries of State, Attorneys-General, and state legislatures across the nation."
"It is urgent," he added. "Democracy — the very soul of America — is at stake."
Biden's statement did not mention making any changes to the long-standing filibuster rule that requires 60 votes for most legislation to proceed in the Senate. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have indicated that they are unwilling to alter the rule.
Schumer had framed Wednesday's vote as merely a step to begin debate, and he had promised that Republicans would "be able to offer amendments" to change the bill as they see fit.
A Senate vote in June to advance the For the People Act, a broader voting rights bill, was split 50-50 along party lines, falling short of the 60 votes it needed to advance.