Filibuster puts strain on voting rights bill


Maggie Eubanks

Voting rights have become a hot topic since the 2020 presidential election. 

In response to the election of Joe Biden, Republicans in Congress and across several states have united to pass voter suppression laws to limit the votes of minorities. 

In response, Democrats in the Senate have written new legislation called the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021. This would require states and counties that have been flagged for voter suppression to have any voting bill cleared by the Department of Justice before the bill can be passed, according to the Congress website. 

But in order for this bill to pass, Senate Democrats must first make it past the filibuster. 

According to the Senate, a filibuster is designed to prolong debate and delay or prevent a vote on a bill, resolution, amendment or other debatable question. Any senator can threaten to filibuster a bill and it will be held up on the voting floor.  

While the filibuster has been changed several times over the past 200 years, there has been recent debate about changing it again for Democrats to pass their new voting rights legislation. 

According to MSNBC, to stop a filibuster, the Senate must reach a 3/5 vote of 60 senators. Democrats want to change this to a simple majority only requiring the votes of 51 senators. 

Daniel Hummel, a political science professor, said changing the requirement would be necessary for the bill to pass but could cause future issues. 

“The only reason I can see this being debated in the Senate right now is because this will allow the Democratic Party, which has the 51 votes, to overcome the filibuster,” Hummel said. “There are risks that these changes will come with consequences, for example, if Democrats lose the Senate they may lose the ability to use the filibuster to block [future] Republican legislation.” 

Georgia, Texas and several other states have passed laws that greatly hinder the ability of minorities to vote. Last year, Georgia passed a law that prohibits food and water from being handed out to voters in line on election day, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Three states in the U.S.—Kentucky, Virginia and Iowa—still don’t allow convicted felons to ever regain their right to vote, according to Vox. 

The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 would stop states from passing laws like these, ensuring that more Americans have the right to vote. 

Tess Spencer, a senior political science major, said she believes the Voting Rights Bill will help Americans. 

“I do agree with the bill [because] it will eliminate these restrictions and increase access to voting,” Spencer said. 

Biden has voiced support to Senate Democrats in their proposed changes saying that this voting rights legislation is necessary to ensure democracy continues in the U.S., according to The New York Times. 

Republicans continue to prevent these changes because they believe lowering the required number of votes to block a filibuster will give too much power to the majority party, and they don’t want to change the longstanding tradition of the Senate filibuster, according to CNN.

Hummel said changing the number of votes required to block a filibuster has happened before and it will continue to change in the future, so we will just have to wait and see what happens. 

“The Senate has changed the rules before to ease the passage of legislation and most recently to confirm Supreme Court nominations, which the Republicans did to confirm Neil Gorsuch in 2017,” Hummel said. “Senate rules have changed in the past, and they will change in the future.”