WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - A bill aimed at thwarting restrictive new voting laws enacted in Republican-led states failed to advance in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, as Republican lawmakers blocked a Democratic effort to begin debating the measure.
It was the third time this year Senate Democrats tried to advance a voting rights bill in reaction to new state balloting restrictions that were fueled by Donald Trump's false claims of a stolen election.
Enough of the chamber's 50 Republicans had voted to block the measure from advancing, a move that could bring new pressure on Democrats to change the Senate's "filibuster" rule that requires a supermajority of 60 votes to pass most legislation.
Senator Angus King, an independent who aligns with Democrats, told reporters that if Republicans again block the bill, "we would either have to figure out a rule change or we have to try to have discussions toward a compromise solution."
Many Democrats have been calling for a scaling back or elimination of the filibuster to make it easier to pass President Joe Biden's agenda over the objections of top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell.
Biden, himself a veteran of the Senate, has voiced objections to doing so - although he suggested he was open to considering it during the recent showdown over hiking the debt ceiling.
There are several reform ideas percolating that could stop short of a full ban on legislative filibusters. Those could include carving out an exemption just for the voting rights bill or limiting the number of filibusters against a bill.
But with no sign of Republicans willing to compromise, King told reporters on Tuesday that Democrats' deliberations on next steps "cannot go on for months and months ... it's got to happen in this calendar year" so that states have enough time to prepare for any election law changes before the November 2022 congressional elections.
Moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have voiced objections to ending the filibuster. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer enlisted Manchin to seek a deal with Republicans on the voting rights bill. It was unclear whether a failure would persuade Manchin to support a rules change.
Slew of state laws
At least 18 states have enacted 30 laws restricting voting access this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, following false claims by Trump, the Republican former president, that he lost the 2020 election to Biden because of widespread voting fraud.
Democrats and voting rights advocates denounce the measures as partisan power grabs that will make it harder for Black and Hispanic voters - important voting blocs for Democrats - to cast ballots.
"No honest observer can look at the way the states have changed election laws this year and pretend that there's nothing malicious afoot," Schumer said in a Tuesday floor speech.
McConnell predicted that none of the senators in his caucus would support opening a debate on the Democrats' voting rights bill.
"What our Democratic friends have been wanting to do forever is to have the federal government take over how elections are conducted all over America. There's no basis for that whatsoever," McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.
Since leaving office, Trump has continued to repeat his baseless election fraud allegations. Multiple courts, state election officials and members of Trump's own administration rejected his claims.
The vote on Wednesday will be for a bill scaled back from the prior version blocked by Republicans. It would set broad standards for how states conduct elections, including ensuring all qualified voters can request mail-in ballots.
It also aims to expand voter turnout by making Election Day a federal holiday and would outlaw partisan drawing of congressional districts, known as "gerrymandering," that both parties have engaged in for decades.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)