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US: Biden urges voting reform

January 12, 2022

Two voting rights bills are currently being blocked from debate by Republican senators. The legislation would represent the biggest overhaul of the US electoral system in a generation.

Joe Biden speaking at a conference in Atlanta.
Joe Biden called for senators to pass two bills that are currently being blockedImage: Kyle Mazza/AA/picture alliance

US president Joe Biden called for senators to pass voting rights legislation on Tuesday in a speech in Atlanta, Georgia.

Two bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, are currently being blocked from debate and votes by Republican senators.

What did Biden say about the voting rights bills?

Biden told the crowd in Atlanta that he'd been having quiet conversations with senators for months over the two bills, but that he was "tired of being quiet."

Biden called the fight over the legislation a "battle for the soul of America," and added that lawmakers in the Senate should "change the rules including getting rid of the filibuster" if the bills are not passed.

Current rules require 60 votes to advance most legislation. Democrats in the Senate can't meet this threshold as they only have a 50-50 majority, with vice president Kamala Harris breaking ties.

Republicans unanimously oppose the voting rights measures.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk onto a stage
Vice President Kamala Harris is the tie breaker in the US senateImage: Kyle Mazza/AA/picture alliance

What does the legislation entail?

Democrats in Congress wrote the proposed laws, which would represent the biggest overhaul of the US elections in a generation.

This legislation would remove obstacles to voting, improve election security, reduce the influence of money in politics and limit party influence over the drawing of electoral districts.

The legislation would create country-level electoral standards that would overrule laws put in place by Republican legislatures in various states. It would also allow the federal Justice Department to police state election laws.

Biden speaking at a stage in Atlanta, Georgia
The legislation would create country-level electoral standardsImage: Patrick Semansky/AP/picture alliance

Federal policing of state laws would affect 19 states where Republicans implemented new voting restrictions in 2020. The restrictions were implemented following Republican former president Donald Trump's electoral loss and subsequent claim that the election had been stolen.

Republican politicians argue that electoral reform is not aimed at fairness but at giving Democrats an advantage in elections.

"What the Democrats have coined a 'voting rights' bill is really just a partisan, political power grab," Republican senator Mike Crapo said in response to Biden's speech.

sdi/aw (AP, Reuters)