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House Democrats push leadership to vote on slimmed-down voting bill

A group of Senate Democrats is also negotiating a smaller voting bill they hope may get more support.

WASHINGTON — A group of House Democrats is launching an internal push on voting legislation, urging their leaders to focus on a few elements, according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

A group of 34 House Democrats, all of whom were among the 49 elected in 2018 and many of whom face tough re-election campaigns, asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to bring up new votes, even if the bills wouldn't be able to get enough support to become law.

A group of Senate Democrats voiced optimism this week that they are nearing a deal on a voting bill that could be released as early as next week. The Democrats' sweeping For the People Act has been stalled in the Senate since Senate Republicans blocked it last month.

The signers of the House letter, led by moderate Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., and joined by Texas Reps. Colin Allred and Veronica Escobar, want a new, tailored version of a voting bill to focus on "pre-empt[ing] harmful laws already passing in state houses across the country," the letter says.

They suggest reinstating protections under the Voting Rights Act and other proposals, such as same-day voter registration, voting by mail, 15 days of early voting and requirements for provisional ballots. They suggest eliminating proposals not directly related to ballot access, such as campaign finance.

"We believe that these two pieces of legislation, in addition to intensive voter registration and education on the ground, are the three prongs of a robust strategy to protect the integrity of the 2022 election, and beyond," they wrote. "Taken together, this 'sword and shield' legislation can provide significant opportunities and protections for our democracy — but we are quickly running out of time."

The group says Congress should act quickly as the midterms approach, Republican state legislatures continue to pass laws that restrict voter access and redistricting is beginning in some states in the next few weeks, including Texas.

The Senate is also poised to release a new version of voting rights legislation.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., has been pressuring his colleagues to stay focused on the issue and is working on a bill with a small group of Democratic senators to release their own trimmed-down voting rights legislation as early as next week.

"I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time," Warnock said. "Passing voting rights in my view is the most important thing we can do in this Congress."

Warnock huddled with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who opposes the For the People Act, and a handful of other senators in Schumer's office Wednesday.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chair of the Rules Committee and part of the negotiating group, told reporters they are close to finalizing a bill. Klobuchar said they are also discussing voting by mail, automatic voter registration and shifting redistricting from state legislature-led to independent commissions.

On a conference call with reporters and Klobuchar, Pelosi said she is also interested in a provision targeting election nullification after an election has been certified.

"The people's voices must be heard and reflected. That's called a democracy," she said. "It isn't three people on a committee to say we will review it and decide whether it stands or not."

But even the slimmed-down bill risks being unable to get enough support in the Senate.

The 60-vote threshold in the Senate means at least 10 Republicans must sign on. Former President Donald Trump's continued false claims that the 2020 election was stolen have driven a deeper wedge between the parties over the issue of voting.

Haley Talbot and Julie Tsirkin contributed.