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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"Defenders of democracy in America still have a slim window of opportunity to act. But time is ticking away, and midnight is approaching," according to more than 150 top scholars of U.S. democracy in a new push to temporarily suspend the Senate filibuster and pass voting rights protections on a simple majority vote.

Driving the news: Their unified front comes amid a short break in the legislative action on Capitol Hill, with the start of the Thanksgiving recess and after the House passage of President Biden's "Build Back Better" social spending package.

  • When Congress returns, it'll be scrambling to avert a government shutdown, raise the debt ceiling and pass the annual defense authorization bill.
  • And Democrats will be trying to keep BBB alive in the Senate, where just one skeptic in their bare-majority ranks — such as West Virginia's Joe Manchin — could have the power to sink it.

What they're saying: Those challenges shouldn't distract from the urgency of passing the compromise Freedom to Vote Act before midterm elections begin, the group says in its public letter.

  • Written by scholars from Duke to Stanford universities, it touches on former President Trump's "Big Lie" and some GOP efforts to empower political officials to overturn legitimate election results.
  • "The partisan politicization of what has long been trustworthy, non-partisan administration of elections represents a clear and present threat to the future of electoral democracy in the United States."
  • Doing nothing would undermine free and fair elections and "likely result in an extended period of minority rule, which a majority of the country would reject as undemocratic and illegitimate," the letter says.

Between the lines: Manchin is the one senator most likely to decide whether Democrats do suspend the legislative filibuster, at least in this one case.

  • The Freedom to Vote Act was actually Manchin's answer to a voting rights expansion by Democrats. But Republicans used the filibuster last month to block his compromise from advancing.
  • The bill included provisions to make Election Day a public holiday, have same day voter registration at all polling places by 2024 and ensure at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections.
  • Manchin has been an active defender of the filibuster. But Democrats can't pass the bill with a simple majority unless they suspend the rule.

Read the letter.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Mapped: Voting rights for 2022

Expand chart
Data: Brennan Center for Justice; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Your ability to vote in 2022 will largely depend on where you live, as lawmakers in 25 states have made it easier for people to vote while those in at least 19 states have made it more difficult, per the Brennan Center for Justice.

Why it matters: The new laws are likely to make the disparities between states even greater. The states where voting is already difficult have been the ones to enact stricter laws; those where it is easier to vote have expanded access to the ballot box.

Updated 14 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 16 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.