ARIZONA NEWS

Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona supports changing Senate rules to pass voting rights

Jan 19, 2022, 8:47 AM | Updated: 11:11 am

PHOENIX – U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, who had been noncommittal, announced Wednesday that he supports changing Senate rules in order to pass voting rights legislation by a simple majority.

“If campaign finance and voting rights reforms are blocked again this week, I will support the proposed changes to pass them with a majority vote,” the first-term Democrat said in a press release.

“Protecting the vote-by-mail system used by a majority of Arizonans and getting dark money out of our elections is too important to let fall victim to Washington dysfunction.”

In explaining his decision, Kelly, who is up for reelection this year, cited his background as an astronaut and in the military.

“I can tell you that if NASA or the Navy functioned like the United States Senate, we would never get the rocket off the launchpad and in combat we’d never complete the mission,” he said.

While Kelly had been a question mark, he wasn’t considered the main obstacle to Senate Democrats’ efforts to get around the filibuster and its 60-vote threshold in order to pass voting rights legislation.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia have remained steadfast in their defense of filibuster requirements. Sinema spoke for 20 minutes on the Senate floor last week to explain why she wasn’t budging on the issue.

“Eliminating the 60-vote threshold on a party line with the thinnest of possible majorities to pass these bills that I support will not guarantee that we prevent demagogues from winning office,” she said. “Indeed, some who undermined the principles of democracy have already been elected.

“Eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come.”

Kelly said he considered what changing the rules would mean down the road before making his decision.

“Arizonans deserve a Senate that is more responsive to the challenges facing our country, which is why I’ve spoken with Arizonans and my Republican and Democratic colleagues about their views on what can be done to make this place work better,” he said.

Despite the Sinema-Manchin roadblock, the Senate on Wednesday started debate on voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights leaders say is vital for protecting democracy.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged the current bill’s likely defeat this week. But he said the fight is not over as he heeds advocates’ call to force all senators to go on record with their positions.

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act combines earlier bills into one package that would make Election Day a national holiday, ensure access to early voting and mail-in ballots — which have become especially popular during the COVID-19 pandemic — and enable the Justice Department to intervene in states with a history of voter interference, among other changes.

Both Manchin and Sinema say they support the package, which has passed the House, but they are unwilling to change the Senate rules to muscle it through that chamber over Republican objections. With a 50-50 split, Democrats have a narrow Senate majority — Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie — but they lack the 60 votes needed to overcome the GOP filibuster.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona supports changing Senate rules to pass voting rights