Proposal for Election Reform Faces Opposition

March 25, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The turmoil former President Donald Trump kicked up over integrity of the vote last November continued Wednesday with a Senate reform proposal that would turn states’ rights to control elections on their heads.

The Senate is considering a bill that would set national minimum standards for elections. It would extend voting by mail, eliminate requirements of picture identification by voters and allow same-day voter registration.

Other provisions of the sprawling 818-page bill would ban states from purging voter registration lists, limit gerrymandering risks and impose new campaign finance ethics rules on politicians.

S.1, the For the People Act, drew support from Democrats during a Senate hearing but opposition from Republicans and some state election officials.

“This bill is the single most dangerous bill this committee has ever considered,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

He said it “would promote widespread fraud and illegal voter registration.”

It also would allow millions of illegal immigrants to vote if they obtained state drivers’ licenses, even by deceit, he said. Illegal immigrants are banned under federal law from voting.

The For the People Act was originally introduced in 2019 but failed to win Senate approval. Trump’s allegations of voter fraud, influence of the COVID-19 pandemic in expanding absentee voting in November and a new Democratic majority came together to breathe new life into the bill.

It was reintroduced in January and already has won approval in the House by a 220-to-210 majority.

Its supporters include President Joe Biden and civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Center for Justice.

A New York Times editorial said the For the People Act would “make the American political system more accessible and accountable to the American people” and “put an end to at least some of the vile voter suppression practices that Republicans have embraced in recent years.”

The most popular points of the bill are restrictions on gerrymandering by requiring voting districts to be drawn by independent redistricting commissions, making Election Day a federal holiday and requiring at least 15 days for early voting.

Most of the provisions are intended to increase the number of people who vote.

Its opponents complain the bill would dramatically increase voter fraud through more mail-in voting in which the voters could not be verified. In addition, automatic voter registration provisions would allow persons with possibly fraudulent identification and addresses to vote, according to its critics.

Some state attorneys general say it violates the Elections Clause in Article 1 of the Constitution, which says in part, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”

In other words, the For the People Act exceeds the authority of Congress to tell the states how to run elections, according to its critics.

Republicans who spoke during the Senate hearing accused Democrats of trying to tilt elections in their favor under a guise of expanding voter access.

One of them was Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said the reforms sought by the For the People Act are unnecessary.

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” McConnell said.

Democrats said about 253 bills are pending in 43 states that seek to limit voter access to elections. Some of the bills would purge registration lists when voters cannot be located, require government-issued picture identification cards to vote or ban convicted criminals from casting ballots.

The Democrats said the requirements unfairly single out low-income and disadvantaged persons in a way that suppresses their votes but favors Republicans.

McConnell denied the accusation, saying, “States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever.”

He drew agreement from Mac Warner, West Virginia’s secretary of state, who added that the bill’s new procedures would “bust our budgets.”

He added, “Please leave election administration up to the states.”

One of the bill’s co-sponsors is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who chairs the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

“This bill is essential to protecting every American’s right to vote,” Klobuchar said.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the national election standards in the bill that address gerrymandering, dark money in campaign financing and suppression of some voters provide a means of “getting rid of all of them at once.”

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