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House Democrats urge Senate colleagues to pass voting rights bill this week

<i>MANDEL NGAN/AFP/AFP via Getty Images</i><br/>Rep. Colin Allred
AFP via Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Rep. Colin Allred

By Daniella Diaz, CNN

A group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Colin Allred of Texas, sent a letter to their Senate colleagues on Monday morning urging them to pass voting rights legislation known as the “Freedom to Vote Act” when it comes up for a vote this week.

The legislation, which stands little chance of becoming law, is a slimmed down version of Democrats’ sweeping elections and voting bill that faced roadblocks in the Senate, including from members of their own party, earlier this year.

“America is strongest when our democratic institutions are strong, when they reflect and project the confidence of our people,” the group wrote in the letter. “The Freedom to Vote Act can fortify our democracy and bring Americans of all political stripes back into the town square, where the vitality of our ideas and experiences can be shared with respect, dynamism and hope for the future.”

This new bill would make it easier to register to vote, make Election Day a public holiday, ensure states have early voting for federal elections and allow all voters to request mail-in ballots. In addition, the measure would bolster security on voting systems, overhaul how congressional districts are redrawn and impose new disclosures on donations to outside groups active in political campaigns.

The lawmakers signing the letter hail from states where they say GOP-led legislatures have either passed restrictive voting laws or are, as they see it, redrawing congressional district lines in favor of Republicans. Both parties have a history of drawing maps to improve their fortunes in congressional elections and protect incumbents, but Republicans have been much more successful at it in recent decades. Nineteen states have passed 33 news laws this year that make it harder to vote, according to a recent analysis from the liberal Brennan Center for Justice.

“Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. Partisan gerrymandering produces more extreme politicians, leads to gridlock and drowns out the voices of certain Americans,” Allred said in a statement to CNN. “With states like Texas getting closer to approving extremely gerrymandered maps, the Senate must swiftly pass the Freedom to Vote Act to protect our democracy.”

The bill, based on a proposal announced in September, is expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to break a Republican-led filibuster, and Democrats lack the votes to change the rules or weaken the filibuster.

But Democrats had worked to at least get all 50 of their members on board with the proposal, which was not the case with the earlier legislation. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has endorsed this pared down version of the legislation that already passed the House. Back in June, Democrats had unified behind the procedural vote on that more extensive bill, which Republicans ultimately blocked, but they had not been on the same page on the policy of the legislation.

In addition to Allred, Monday’s letter is signed by Reps. Alma Adams of North Carolina, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Kathy Castor of Florida, Joaquin Castro of Texas, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Charlie Crist of Florida, Sharice Davids of Kansas, Val Demings of Florida, Ted Deutch of Florida, Lloyd Doggett of Texas, Veronica Escobar of Texas, Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Sylvia Garcia of Texas, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Al Green of Texas, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, Al Lawson of Florida, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Kathy Manning of North Carolina, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, David Price of North Carolina, Deborah Ross of North Carolina, Tim Ryan of Ohio, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Darren Soto of Florida, Filemon Vela of Texas, Nikema Williams of Georgia and Frederica Wilson of Florida.

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