Democrats’ Voting Rights Plan Faces Long Odds in US Senate

Democrats' Voting Rights Plan Faces Long Odds in US Senate Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaking at a hearing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on judicial nominations in Washington, D.C. on June 9. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) ​

Richard Cowan Tuesday, 22 June 2021 06:59 AM

A proposal to reform U.S. elections that Democrats say is vital to protecting Americans' right to vote hits the Senate floor on Tuesday, where it faces opposition from Republicans who say the measure infringes on states' rights.

Without Republican support, Senate Majority Chuck Schumer will be unable to pass one of his party's top priorities: a sweeping election reform bill imposing new limits on voting.

"How does making it a crime to give food or water to voters waiting in long lines at the polls deter voter fraud?" Schumer asked on the Senate floor on Monday. "It has to do with cruelty. It has to do with nastiness. And it has to do with suppressing the vote."

Republicans say the state measures are needed to stop fraud, which former President Donald Trump falsely claimed resulted in his November defeat. There is no evidence of widespread election fraud in the United States.

Unlikely to garner the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to advance most legislation, Schumer nonetheless has been concentrating on getting all 50 Democrats and independents to unite on Tuesday to open debate on a bill similar to one that already has passed the House of Representatives.

That would require winning over moderate Democrat Joe Manchin, who opposes the House bill and a companion Senate bill and has been trying to find Republicans to join a bipartisan measure.

Among Democrats' goals are expanding early voting in elections for president and Congress, making it easier to vote by mail and ensuring that certain campaign contributions are more transparent. Their bills also aim to take partisanship out of the once-a-decade drawing of congressional districts, which are at the heart of American democracy.

Republicans argue the U.S. Constitution gives the 50 states the power to set their own voting practices. But the Constitution also allows Washington to alter those rules, and Democrats argue they are only setting some minimum standards for states.

Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted the bill is based on one first introduced in the House in 2019, before the 2020 election and its chaotic aftermath.

"They've made it abundantly clear that the real driving force behind S-1 is a desire to rig the rules of American elections permanently in Democrats' favor," McConnell said. "That's why the Senate will give this disastrous proposal no quarter."

Reuters/Ipsos polling shows that Americans generally want to expand access to the ballot box and many oppose the more restrictive measures percolating in Republican-controlled state legislatures.

A survey conducted June 11-17 showed that 59% of adults oppose reducing early-voting hours, while 25% support doing so.

If the Democrats' effort fails, new voting controls imposed in states such as Georgia, Iowa and Florida will be in place for the 2022 mid-term elections in which Republicans aim to win back control of the U.S. Senate and House.

Court challenges could result in some of these laws being stricken.

But Wendy Weiser, an elections expert at the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice, said court cases "are emphatically not enough." Because judicial decisions could be time-consuming, "hundreds of state, local and federal elections will have passed" with the stricter rules in place. (Reporting by Richard Cowan, additional reporting by Chris Kahn, Makini Brice, Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)

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