The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, was the youngest and last surviving member of the Big Six civil rights activists who led the fight to end legalized segregation and overturn Jim Crow laws. He was arrested dozens of times and also beaten as a Freedom Rider. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Tuesday she would join Senate Democrats in backing a compromise voting rights bill, marking the first time this year a Republican has signed on to a measure that likely still lacks enough GOP support to become law.
Murkowski, of Alaska, joined Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia to introduce a new version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the Georgia civil rights icon.
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The compromise version is more permissive of state voter ID laws. It also includes a provision to expand Native American voting access.
The senators said the changes were the product of “months of bipartisan negotiations,” but Murkowski was the only Republican senator to endorse the legislation Tuesday.
Under Senate rules, the measure would have to receive 60 votes to advance to debate, meaning nine more Republicans beyond Murkowski would have to vote for it.
Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said in a statement he was “hopeful that more Republicans will follow Senator Murkowski’s lead.”
The compromise measure includes language that would require courts hearing challenges to state practices to consider whether the practice “advances a valid and substantiated state interest.” The bill’s sponsors said that would strengthen the landmark Voting Rights Act’s protections against discriminatory voter laws.
The bill would also allow courts not to consider voter photo ID laws when looking at the totality of circumstances in Voting Rights Act lawsuits.
In a press release, Murkowski highlighted the inclusion of the Native American Voting Rights Act, a bill introduced earlier this year by New Mexico Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján.
The measure would allow tribes to request the number and location of voter registration sites and polling places on tribal lands, authorize tribal ID cards as a valid form of voting identification and authorize a $10 million Native American Voting Rights Task Force grant program, according to a summary from cosponsor U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).
The evenly divided U.S. Senate is expected to vote on cloture on the bill Wednesday. If that procedural vote fails, the bill will be stalled.
Congressional Democrats have made several previous efforts at voting rights reform this year, as Republican-led state legislatures put in place more restrictive laws, but have not won support from any Republicans.
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