Senate Vote on Voting Rights Failed, But the Fight Cannot Be Over

Chuck Schumer speaking at a podium with Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff sanding in the background behind him wearing medical masks.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY, left) and U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff (D-GA, center) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA, right) meet with the media following Senate Democratic lunch, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 13, 2022. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

The night of Jan. 19, 2022 was a disappointing night for all who have been fighting for the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act (H.R. 5746) — a critical piece of legislation aimed at strengthening our democracy that failed in a U.S. Senate vote. Indeed, this month and this past year have been rough for everyone who cares about the freedom to vote.

This legislation was crafted with the aim of achieving goals that have long had bipartisan support and are viewed favorably by a strong majority of Americans — goals like prohibiting gerrymandering, increasing disclosure of money spent in federal elections, protecting the freedom to vote, fighting election sabotage by protecting the independence of election officials and restoring and modernizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

These should not have become partisan issues.

However, there is still hope for achieving these goals. The road ahead might be a bit more challenging, but we should not to buy into the “All is Lost” media narrative that is already playing out.

The important work of strengthening our democracy must continue. Through litigation and work in the states, groups like Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and our allies have already been scoring wins on multiple fronts in fights against gerrymandering and numerous barriers to voting. Although these wins are mostly incremental, local wins and state work are critical as we push forward.

Members of Congress cannot and should not think they are done with the work needed to strengthen our democracy. They can block moving the legislation forward and go on recess, but they should only do so knowing that their work is not done until voting rights protections are passed and signed into law.

As the great John Lewis, for whom this bill is named, once wrote, "You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself."

With the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, the Senate has the opportunity to require a strong, free and fair voting system in this country and ensure the ability for every American to participate in safe, accessible and transparent elections.

We have undeniably experienced a setback at the hands of 50 Senate Republicans and two Senate Democrats. But going forward, we will get up and continue to push for accessible voting and a democracy that is responsive to the people.

In the meantime, it is important to thank Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the other Democratic senators who spent countless hours fighting for their constituents. Their work cannot be forgotten.

Moving forward, we cannot stop letting Congress know that we care, not until the promise of democracy is truly realized for each and every American.

Trevor is CLC's founder and one of the country's top election lawyers.
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