November 30, 2023

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 opposed 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 special budget 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, DW.V., has also criticized the bill, arguing that Congress should carry out electoral reform on a bipartisan basis.

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., has insisted that he 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 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 named the plan necessary to combat laws passed in Georgia, Florida and elsewhere that critics say 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 overrun 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 termed “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 pointed out 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-time measures, including widespread postal voting, would make it easier for Americans to vote. Suffrage experts have welcomed much of the legislation, but some have raised concerns that the plan would create administrative clutter for state and local officials.

Senate Democrats hope to allay those fears with changes they plan 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 changes would shorten the window of time in which election officials can accept postal ballot papers 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 as he pushed for the bill.

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