As Joe Biden Eyes Major Voting Reform, Georgia Republicans Roll Back Rights

President Joe Biden has come out in support of restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act as Democrats in the House approved a new measure that would see major reform.

The House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act by a vote of 220 to 210 on Thursday. The bill is named for the late Civil Rights icon and Democratic Congressman John Lewis.

If passed by the Senate and signed by Biden, the new act would expand access to voting and give the federal government more power to reject restrictions imposed by state governments on voting rights.

The bill comes at the same time as state legislatures are moving to impose new conditions on voting.

The Republican-led Georgia Senate passed a bill on Monday that would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting and imposes strict limits on who can apply to vote by mail, according to NPR.

Under the proposed law's provisions, absentee voting would be available only to those over 65, the physically disabled, those who are required to be out of state on election day and the preceding three-week early voting period, those with religious holidays falling during the voting period, election workers and military or overseas voters.

No-excuse absentee voting was introduced in Georgia 16 years ago by Republicans. The new measures are widely seen as a reaction to Democratic victories in the state. The party won the presidential election there and both Senate run-off elections in contests that involved mass mail-in voting.

On Sunday, Biden signed an executive order commemorating the 56th anniversary of a Civil Rights protest known as Bloody Sunday. John Lewis had helped to lead the march on March 7, 1965 and suffered a fractured skull when state troopers attacked the unarmed marchers.

"Today, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I am signing an executive order to make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote and improve access to voting," Biden said.

"Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have that vote counted. If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote."

He added, "I also urge Congress to fully restore the Voting Rights Act, named in John Lewis' honor."

The executive order expands access to voter registration services and information but the White House indicated that this is just an "initial step." The next phase would be passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which aims to restore the 1965 act.

Passed under the close supervision of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the landmark act contained a provision known as preclearance which required federal approval of any changes in voting rights introduced by six states with a history of racial discrimination as well as parts of other states. Georgia was among those states.

In 2013 the Supreme Court struck down this part of the act but Congress may still be able to introduce a new version of preclearance that passes the constitutional test. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would require 10 years of preclearance for states and counties with a significant history of voting rights violations in the past 25 years, according to GPB News.

However, the bill could die in the Senate as Republicans may deploy the filibuster to prevent the act's passage, focusing attention yet again on the contentious issue of an obscure parliamentary procedure that President Biden has previously defended.

Biden Delivers Remarks on International Women’s Day
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on International Women’s Day as Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost (L) and Army Lieutenant General Laura Richardson (R) listen during an announcement at the East Room of the White House March 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Alex Wong/Getty Images