Democrats try to push a complete electoral reform invoice that faces nice possibilities of a Senate move
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promotes the Senate Democrats' legislative achievements when he holds a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 25, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The Senate Democrats tabled a comprehensive bill reforming federal elections on Tuesday, which is vital in combating a wave of restrictive election proposals across the country.
The chamber's regulatory committee considered a version of the House-Passed For the People Act, which aims to create automatic voter registration, expand early voting, require more disclosures from political donors, and curb partisan gerrymandering. The panel is expected to vote on submitting the plan to the Senate after considering a number of amendments.
The bill has little chance of getting through the full chamber split 50-50 by party. Republicans have spoken out against the legislation, calling it a federal takeover of locally administered elections.
With no GOP votes, the Democrats seem unable to pass the bill on their own. They cannot apply specific budgetary rules that allow certain laws to be passed by simple majority, and they do not have the support within their party to lift the filibuster threshold of 60 votes. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Has also criticized the bill, arguing that Congress should implement electoral reform on a bipartisan basis.
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Has insisted that he will bring the plan to the bottom of the Chamber. The regulatory committee, in which the seats are divided equally between the parties, could be stuck on whether it should be referred to the entire Senate. The Democrats could then push the bill forward by a majority in the chamber – which may require a groundbreaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.
Schumer and Senate Minority Chairman Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Underscored the importance of the bill and testified at the committee hearing on Tuesday. The Democratic leader identified the plan necessary to combat laws passed in Georgia, Florida, and elsewhere. Critics say this will disproportionately affect the right to vote for people of color.
The steps to restrict voting followed persistent, unfounded claims by former President Donald Trump that widespread fraud resulted in him losing the 2020 election. The allegations resulted in a crowd of Trump's supporters overran the Capitol on Jan. 6 as lawmakers counted President Joe Biden's election victory.
"Republican lawmakers have taken up the big lie to restrict the right to vote and inevitably made it harder for African Americans, Latinos, students and the working poor to vote," Schumer said. "Here in the twenty-first century, we are witnessing an attempt at the greatest curtailment of voting rights since the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow."
McConnell again downplayed the effects of restrictive state laws, sparking litigation from constituencies and criticism from large corporations and CEOs. He criticized what he called "hysterical attacks" on Georgian measures that impose strict identification requirements on postal ballot papers and limit drop-off boxes, including provisions criticized by proxies.
The Republican leader also noted that the Democrats first passed the For the People Act in 2019, before electoral laws went into effect after 2020. McConnell described the bill as a takeover.
"Our democracy is not in crisis," he said. "And we will not allow a party to take over our democracy under the false pretext of saving it."
Legislation, passed by the Democratic House in March, would introduce automatic voter registration across the country. It would require states to offer 15 days early voting and encourage apologetic absentee voting.
The move would encourage public funding of campaigns – which particularly angered Republicans – and would require disclosure of certain political advertisers and donors to "dark money" groups. It would also set up independent redistribution commissions to curb partisan gerrymandering of congressional seats.
Democrats said the large turnout in 2020 showed that pandemic-era measures, including widespread postal voting, will make it easier for Americans to vote. Voting experts have welcomed much of the legislation, but some have raised concerns that the plan would create administrative clutter for state and local officials.
The Senate Democrats hope to be able to allay these fears with changes they want to approve on Tuesday. Senate committee chair Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Said changes would give states more time to do automatic voter registration and same-day registration at polling stations.
The optimizations would shorten the window of time for election officials to accept postal ballots and resolve signature disputes so they can confirm the results more quickly.
"You can at the same time make elections fair and safe and give voters options that work for them," said Klobuchar on Tuesday when he pushed for the bill.
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