WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Top U.S. Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said on Thursday the chamber will vote next week on whether to debate a new election reform bill aimed at countering the growth of state-level Republican voting restrictions.
The move sets up a fresh conflict with Senate Republicans, all 50 of whom voted against a voting rights bill in June. Top Republican Senator Mitch McConnell last month said he would block the new bill.
Schumer has already warned Republicans that failure to advance the legislation would prompt him to find a way to move it forward without them.
"We cannot allow conservative-controlled states to double down on their regressive and subversive voting bills," Schumer said in a letter to fellow Democrats calling for a vote as early as Wednesday.
At least 18 Republican-led states have enacted laws restricting voting access this year, following Republican former President Donald Trump's false claims the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.
The bill, dubbed the Freedom to Vote Act, would ensure that all qualified voters can request mail-in ballots and have at least 15 days of early voting. It also would allow people to register to vote as late as Election Day, which would become a public holiday.
It also would place new federal controls on how state legislatures draw the 435 House of Representatives districts in an attempt to minimize "gerrymandering" resulting in oddly-shaped areas that give one political party an advantage over others in congressional elections.
The measure would require 60 votes to move forward and failure could prompt Democrats to revisit the question of reforming the Senate filibuster rule that requires a super-majority vote for most legislation.
Schumer signaled to Republicans last month that he would look for a path around the filibuster if Republicans blocked the reform measure. Democrats and Republicans each control 50 Senate seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.
But there have been no indications that the bill has attracted the Republican support it would need to advance.
"I hope that our Republican colleagues will join us in good faith," Schumer said in the letter. "But Republicans must come to the table to have that conversation and at the very least vote to open debate."