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Agreement Eludes Senators On Election Reform Proposal

May 12, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks at a Senate Rules Committee markup to argue against the "For the People Act," which would expand access to voting and other voting reforms, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. The bill was already passed by Democrats in the House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee tried Tuesday to amend a bill before sending it off to a final vote that would set national standards for elections.

It made little headway in reaching agreement in a sharply divided Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Republicans said it was an attempt to tilt elections toward Democrats while Democrats argued the legislation would bring more integrity to elections.

“There’s nothing bipartisan about this,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “This was cooked up at the Democratic National Committee.”

He was talking about the For the People Act, S.1, which Democrats who proposed it said would expand voters’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants and limit gerrymandering.

It is expected to reach a vote in the Senate within days amid growing complaints by voting rights advocates that some states are varying their election laws in ways that violate voters’ constitutional rights.

In recent weeks, Florida, Georgia and Texas lawmakers approved laws that set new identification requirements for mail-in voters and limit use of drop boxes for ballots. The Georgia law also requires photo identification to vote.

Since former President Donald Trump said he was robbed of a second term in 2020 by voter fraud, election reform bills have been introduced in the legislatures of 47 states.

Like the Florida, Georgia and Texas laws, many of the bills seek tougher protection against risks of voter fraud, such as by illegal immigrants or persons using fake names to vote more than once.

Opponents of the state laws, such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who chairs the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, says the proposed laws exclude low-income and underprivileged persons from voting.

Disabled persons, for example, might need broad access to mail-in ballots to vote, according to critics of the state laws. In addition, persons who lack government identification cards could be barred from polling places.

“They are real efforts to stop people from voting,” Klobuchar said about the state laws.

The Democrat-controlled House passed the For the People Act on March 3 along party lines. It faces a tougher fight in the Senate where Democrats and Republicans are split 50-to-50. A tie vote would give Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris an opportunity to break the tie.

Senate Republicans have said they are likely to try to block the bill from proceeding to a vote with a filibuster.

Nevertheless, popular opinion surveys show most Americans support the bill. A January 2021 poll by public policy foundation Data for Progress showed nearly 67% of respondents supported the bill.

Key provisions of the For the People Act would require states to offer same-day voter registration for federal elections. States would be compelled to hold early voting for at least two weeks before a general election.

Automatic voter registration rules in the bill would make any adult eligible to vote who provides information to state agencies, such as to get a driver’s license or enroll in a public university.

Election Day would become a federal holiday to ensure more people get time off work or school to vote. States would be required to offer online voter registration.

Common criticisms of the bill include allegations it would threaten election security by mandating no-excuse mail-in voting and automatic voter registration while restricting voter identification laws.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee discussed and voted on more than a dozen amendments Tuesday but failed to agree on all but small modifications, such as expanding online voting rights for disabled persons and military personnel stationed abroad.

“We should be focusing on making it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “S.1 makes it easier to cheat and harder to detect.”

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said the higher priority is to rein in out-of-control state laws by setting minimum federal requirements.

“I don’t want the federal government taking over our elections but I do think there’s a place for the federal government to establish a floor,” King said. “I see it as making it easier for people to vote.”

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