Voting rights bill seems doomed in Senate, without Murkowski on board

two election workers talk to each other
Election workers help voters at Service High School in Anchorage on Election Day 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday the Senate will vote before the end of June on a bill to expand access to voting, though its chances of becoming law are slim.

Among Senate Republicans, Lisa Murkowski is the most likely to be on board. She’s not.

Murkowski said the House bill, called the “For the People Act,” goes too far.

She said she didn’t like the way the bill would change the Federal Elections Commission, which she said would make it more political. And Murkowski said states need to be in charge of redrawing congressional districts.

“Redistricting oversight — I’m not supportive of nationalizing that, to use the terminology,” she said, ending a string of objections she has to the bill. “So there are areas that are substantive and that I think need to be addressed.”

Murkowski is the only Senate Republican to co-sponsor the more limited John Lewis Voting Rights Act. 

That bill would revive the Voting Right Act of 1965. The Supreme Court effectively gutted the law in 2013, ruling Alaska and eight other states with a history of discrimination did not need Justice Department oversight of their election laws. The John Lewis bill would restore a key tool of the 1965 law, establishing new criteria for when states have to seek federal approval to change their voting practices.

The “For the People Act,” which the House passed in March, is far more broad. Among other things, it requires states to allow online and same-day voter registration. It mandates at least 15 days of early voting and voting by mail.

Republican critics argue it tilts the field for Democrats. Democrats say one goal is to curb new state laws designed to restrict access to favor Republicans.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said he can’t vote for the bill. Without at least one Republican supporting it, the bill will fail.

Murkowski said she supports some policies in the House bill, and is proud Alaska already has good access to the voting booth.

“We have long allowed for absentee voting for any reason,” she said. “In fact, I didn’t have any appreciation as to how many states actually are so extraordinarily limited and restricted in the opportunity for voting absentee.”

The League of Women Voters has endorsed the broad voting rights bill. League President for Alaska, Judy Andree, said the “For the People Act” would protect democracy.

“It’s just trying to making it equal across the country, so that the eligible voters in every state are treated the same and don’t have roadblocks put in their way,” Andree said. “And I think that’s something that everyone in Congress should support.”

Andree said the League has contacted Murkowski and is reaching out to Sen. Dan Sullivan, too.

Sullivan’s office wasn’t able to provide a statement describing his position on the voting rights bills.

Congressman Don Young voted against the “For the People” bill in March, as did all Republicans present.