But to do so, he must accomplish a near-impossible feat and persuade reluctant senators in his own caucus to change the chamber’s rules to bypass the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome Republicans’ repeated blockades of the bills.
Despite supporting voting measures, two of his fellow Democrats — Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — have defended the so-called filibuster, which requires 10 Republicans to support advancing legislation in an evenly divided 50-50 Senate.
Time is running out for Democrats, who are racing to establish new ground rules for voting ahead of this year’s midterm elections that will determine which party controls Congress.
Schumer has set a deadline of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 17 to vote on rule changes if Republicans once again block consideration of the bills.
The looming confrontation comes as some GOP leaders have begun to voice support for a more modest approach: updating an arcane 19th century law, known as the Electoral Count Act, that details how Congress counts Electoral College votes from each state.
As the Senate gears up to tackle voting rights, here’s a look at the various legislative proposals and what they would do:
The Freedom to Vote Act
Among its provisions: Making Election Day a public holiday, mandating same-day voter registration, guaranteeing that all voters can request mail-in ballots and restoring the federal voting rights for ex-felons once they are released from prison.
It also seeks to safeguard against partisan takeovers of election administration, ban partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts and mandate disclosure of donors to deep-pocketed “dark money” groups that seek to influence elections.
All 50 members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate back the bill; Republicans have rejected it as federal overreach.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
The bill, named for the late Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who died in 2020, would restore the power of the federal government to oversee state voting laws to prevent discrimination against minority voters.
A 2013 Supreme Court decision gutted a central pillar of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required nine states and parts of others with a history of racial discrimination to win approval or “preclearance” from the US Justice Department or a federal judge before changing their electoral policies.
Soon after the ruling, some states began enacting new voting laws, such as adding stricter voter identification requirements. And in the last year, Republican-led states have moved quickly to change more laws, spurred on by former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that widespread voter fraud led to his 2020 loss.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the only Senate Republican to sign on to the bill.
The Electoral Count Act
On January 6, 2020, then-Vice President Mike Pence resisted calls by Donald Trump and his allies to exploit perceived weaknesses in the act and insert himself into the vote-counting process to toss out Joe Biden’s slate of electors. Pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol that day to stop the certification of Biden’s victory.
Liberal activists have worried aloud that the new focus on changes to the Electoral Count Act might take pressure off lawmakers to pass the broader voting bills.
“The Electoral Count Act is a fine reform,” Ezra Levin, co-founder of the progressive group Indivisble, said in a statement, “but it would do nothing to reverse or prevent gerrymandering or voter suppression