Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin Kill Voting Rights Bills


Senator Joe Manchin (WV) and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) stand together.

By Eunho Jung, Senior Editor

In an effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, Democratic leaders called for a one-time rule change to avoid the filibuster. Yet, Senator Sinema along with Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia opposed the rule change prohibiting the bill from going into law. With no Republicans for the rule-change, the filibuster rule-change failed with a 48-52 vote.

A filibuster is best defined as “action designed to prolong debate and delay or prevent a vote on a bill, resolution, amendment, or other debatable question.” In order to end debate or the filibuster, there must be 60 votes, not just a simple majority. Currently, the Senate is spilt 50-50 with Democrats in control as Vice-President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, would cast the tie-breaking vote if need be. In order to pass extremely partisan bills, 60 votes are needed: an impossible feat in the case of these two voting bills. A one-time rule change of the filibuster was called for by Democratic officials in order to bypass the filibuster and Republican opposition.

These two bills respond to the unprecedented rise of voter suppression nationwide in the wake of the 2020 election. According to the Voting Rights Lab, dozens of states have enacted more than 200 voter suppression bills, especially states like Georgia, Florida, and Texas. Yet, on the other hand, states like New York, Vermont, and Hawaii have expanded voting rights access.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would strengthen the right to vote by simultaneously strengthening the government’s ability to respond to voting discrimination. The act also restores the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The bill is named after late activist and politician John Lewis who was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement.

The Freedom to Vote Act takes direct action against voter suppression and promotes racial justice and equity for all Americans. Most notably, it would make Election Day a national holiday allowing voters more access to reach the polls. It would also outlaw partisan gerrymandering.

Unfortunately, the two Democratic Senators refused to align with their party’s consequential efforts and prohibited the two bills from going into law.

Although Senator Sinema has publicly supported the voting rights bills as she reiterated to her colleagues on the Senate floor on Thursday, January 13, she opposed the filibuster rule change. “And I strongly support and will continue to vote for legislative responses to address these state laws – including the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, that the Senate is currently considering,” Sinema explained.

Sinema explained that the filibuster rule change “would deepen our divisions and risk repeated radical reversals in federal policy, cementing uncertainty and further eroding confidence in our government.”

The Arizona Senator’s actions had far-reaching consequences. Organizations like EMILY’S List, a pro-choice PAC supporting female politicians, withdrew their support for Sinema. Her own party back in her home state made an executive decision to censure on Saturday, January 22. “While we take no pleasure in this announcement, the ADP Executive Board has decided to formally censure Senator Sinema as a result of her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy,” said ADP Chair Raquel Terán.

Senator Manchin released a statement voicing that “the filibuster plays an important role in protecting our democracy from the transitory passions of the majority and respecting the input of the minority in the Senate,” and that he “will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”

In a Tweet, President Joe Biden announced he was “profoundly disappointed that the United States Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy.”  Yet, he “will continue to advance necessary legislation and push for Senate procedural changes that will protect the fundamental right to vote.”

The path forward to address voter suppression is unclear. However, it is a costly fight. Democrats will need to spend heavily to mobilize and register voters to overcome voter suppression laws.

Arnav Garg, a senior at Wayne Hills High School, shared that “Machin is a disgrace to his constituency” as he “betrays the views of the people he represents. Therefore I do not have a favorable view of his position on the Voting Rights bill.”