U.S. Senate Democrats set to advance sweeping electoral law changes
Democrats in the U.S. Senate pushed forward sweeping campaigning and election legislation on Tuesday that they said would expand access to the vote, even as Republican-controlled states rushed to impose new restrictions.
After a long day of sometimes spiteful debate between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, the deep divisions were evident by the panel’s 9-9 vote on approval. No Republican voted yes.
Due to the tied vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to take procedural steps to submit it to the Senate for debate and a vote, according to committee chair Amy Klobuchar, a fellow Democrat.
Under current Senate procedures, Republicans in the 100-member Senate can block passage of a bill unless at least 10 of them vote with Democrats to support it, an unlikely outcome.
Among the provisions of the bill are requirements for states to expand postal voting, which was widely used in last year’s presidential election due to the coronavirus pandemic. It would also lengthen the hours for in-person voting.
With dozens of proposed amendments, all nine Democrats and nine Republicans stuck on most, leading to their defeat.
The panel, however, approved a Republican amendment banning the right to vote for anyone convicted of crimes against children.
The unusual appearance of the main Democratic and Republican Senate leaders at the committee’s working session underscored the stakes, as legislation moved forward as the November 2022 congressional election rolled out.
“The bill before this committee has a very simple premise: make it easier to vote, not harder,” Schumer said.
He devoted most of his remarks, however, to the multitude of electoral law changes passed this year in Republican-controlled states, calling them anti-democrats. “They carry the stench of oppression,” Schumer said.
The Senate bill and a similar bill passed by the House of Representatives in March without Republican support go beyond electoral reforms. They are also trying to end the partisan way congressional districts are drawn and curb “black money” campaign contributions that obscure the identity of donors.
Democrats are pushing for change as former President Donald Trump continues to falsely claim that his election defeat in November was the result of widespread fraud.
Election fraud is extremely rare in the United States, researchers say. Several federal and state courts and election officials rejected Trump’s request last year.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said the Democrats’ bill represented nothing more than a takeover.
“This legislation would allow Democrats in Washington to dictate the terms of their own re-election races by rewriting the election laws of the 50 states,” McConnell said.
He focused on provisions that he said would promote fraudulent elections by relaxing voter identification laws and allowing people to collect and deliver the ballots of other voters, such as those who are in in remote locations or in nursing homes.
Last week, Florida passed new limits on postal voting and the use of ballot boxes. Texas is also in the process of approving new controls. Read more
This follows Georgia’s March enactment of a far-reaching Republican bill that includes a ban on offering food or water to voters in line.
A national Reuters / Ipsos opinion poll in March found that 81% of adults said it was “very” or “somewhat” important for the government to make it easier for people to vote. But the poll also showed that 74% believe it is equally important that new voting limits be imposed to protect elections from fraud.
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