US President Joe Biden tours Georgia state to rally public support for two bills aimed at protecting minority voting rights, which he accuses Republicans of endangering.

US President Biden says he
US President Biden says he "will not yield" after months of conversations with senators over voting rights bill. (Reuters)

President Joe Biden has said that he supports changing Senate rules in order to pass voting rights legislation, declaring that changing the rules would be to protect the "heart and soul of our democracy."

Biden told a crowd in Atlanta on Tuesday that he'd been having quiet conversations with Senators for months over the two bills up for debate, stalled because there aren't enough Republican votes to move them past filibuster to votes.

"I’m tired of being quiet!" he said, emphatically pounding the podium. "I will not yield. I will not flinch," in the effort to protect democracy.

Current rules require 60 votes to advance most legislation — a threshold that Senate Democrats can't meet alone because they only have a 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. 

Republicans unanimously oppose the voting rights measures.

Not all Democrats are on board with changing the filibuster rules. Conservative West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin threw cold water on the idea on Tuesday, saying he believes any changes should be made with substantial Republican buy-in.

And even if Democrats clear the obstacles to passage of the voting rights laws, it could be too late to counter widespread voting restrictions passed in 19 states following former president Donald Trump's 2020 loss and his claims — embraced by many in the GOP –– that the election was stolen through voter fraud.

READ MORE: Biden sees US democracy threatened by Republican 'subversion'

Key minority voting rights bills

Backed by Democrats, the Freedom to Vote Act makes election day a public holiday, expands voting by mail, and allows same-day voter registration.

The bill also expands the list of identification documents that can be presented at polling stations when voting, a measure criticised by Republicans who believe it may facilitate fraud.

And it rescinds some of the restrictions passed in several Republican-led states since Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential election.

In particular, the legislation takes aim at a law passed in Georgia last year, which prevents the distribution of drinks or snacks to citizens lining up to vote.

Activists say the measure may discourage voting in this southern state, after some voters had to wait more than 10 hours in humid heat to cast their ballots in the 2020 election.

Activists also argue the law is particularly discriminatory against African-Americans, who often live in neighbourhoods with fewer polling stations and who overwhelmingly voted for Biden.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after famed American civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis, is another measure aimed at boosting minority voting rights.

The bill prohibits adoption of legislation that would result in discriminatory voting practices, even if they are not overt or intentional.

It restores key provisions of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, a landmark voting rights law that was passed in 1965 during the civil rights movement but was significantly watered down by the Supreme Court in recent years.

In Georgia, Biden sought to promote the two bills, which have already passed the House of Representatives and are expected to be voted on in the Senate this week.

READ MORE: NYC's new law allows non-citizens to vote in local elections

Source: AP