August 28, 2021

(Reuters) – Protesters will march in U.S. cities on Saturday to demand protections for voting rights, using the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 March on Washington to push back against a wave of ballot restrictions in Republican-led states.

The “March On for Voting Rights” will be led by civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton. It is aimed at pressuring Congress to pass legislation enshrining expansive access to the ballot in federal law.

“We are marching for voting rights and, put simply, for democracy,” said Stasha Rhodes, campaign manager of 51 for 51, a coalition of groups advocating for Washington, D.C., statehood and one of the leading organizers of Saturday’s event.

After Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Republican lawmakers in many states reined in use of dropboxes and mail-in voting. The moves came after former Republican president Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to overturn the election based on unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

So far this year, at least 18 states have enacted laws restricting voter access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Organizers expect some 50,000 demonstrators in Washington to progress from McPherson Square to the National Mall, according to a permit for the event. Rallies are also planned in other cities including Miami and Phoenix.

This week the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to restore key protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. The measure is named after the late Representative John Lewis, a civil rights hero who died last year.

Prospects of passage in the Senate remains poor, with only one Republican expressing support. That is nine short of the number Democrats would need to advance it in the chamber, divided 50-50 along party lines and where Senate rules allow a minority to block legislation.

A more expansive voting reform bill was also passed by the House this year but Senate Republicans blocked it in June. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said voting rules should be left to the states.

Rhodes said she hoped Saturday’s rally would push the White House and lawmakers to eliminate the filibuster rule that allows a Senate minority to block legislation so the voting rights bill can pass. The 1963 march, when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, helped set the stage for the country’s 1960’s civil rights reforms.

(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by David Gregorio)

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