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Democrats Try Again to Block State Restrictions on Voting

September 20, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., left, and Cliff Albright, executive director of Black Voters Matter, attend a rally for voting rights, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are trying to firm up support this week for a new bill to reform local and federal elections in a way that puts them on a collision course with a recent wave of laws in Republican-dominated states.

They have largely failed with the For the People Act to set minimum standards to protect the integrity of elections nationwide.

Republicans who say it would infringe on states’ constitutional rights to set terms of access to ballots blocked the bill through a filibuster.

The latest effort, introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as the Freedom to Vote Act, is a slimmed down version of the failed bill.

It keeps key proposals for expanded use of mail-in ballots, at least 15 days of early voting and voter registration on Election Day. It also seeks to restrict gerrymandering that would allow a winning political party to redraw voting districts in its favor.

“You cannot have these states basically deciding who their voters are,” Klobuchar said on MSNBC’s The Sunday Show. “If they had trouble in the last election, if they lost the presidency, then change your policies, change your candidates, change your messages. Do not try to change your voters. That is against the fundamental right to vote.”

Examples Democrats like Klobuchar mention include laws approved recently in Florida, Georgia and Texas.

The Texas law increases criminal penalties for anyone who breaks election rules, gives partisan poll watchers more access and bans drive-through and 24-hour voting.

The Florida and Georgia laws restrict access to mail-in ballots and require government-issued identification to receive them.

Republicans say the restrictions are intended to protect against the kind of voter fraud that former President Donald Trump falsely claims pervaded the last presidential election. Democrats say the new restrictions are intended to suppress the votes of people who often vote Democratic, particularly minorities.

The new Senate bill makes a few concessions to get past Republicans, such as eliminating provisions from the For the People Act that would have required closer federal oversight of campaign financing and ethics.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would like to schedule a vote on the Freedom to Vote Act as soon as this week.

However, early indications from Republicans show they will once again vote to block the Senate from beginning debate on the bill.

Meanwhile, private legal challenges continue against some of the state voting rights laws. In the latest one filed last week, the NAACP sued several New York election officials in defiance of the state’s “line-warming” ban.

Line-warming refers to non-partisan groups offering food and drink to voters waiting in line at polling stations. Georgia also prohibits line-warming under its law enacted this year.

The NAACP argues the ban discourages eligible persons from voting, particularly the elderly and minorities who traditionally have less access to voting stations than the White population.

“Plaintiff aims only to lighten that load, in recognition of the burdens faced by New York’s in-person voters, by providing free food and drink in an expression of solidarity with voters who brave long lines and the elements to be heard,” the lawsuit says.

The NAACP says the ban violates the First and 14th Amendments because it could criminalize free speech and burden voters’ rights to participate in the political process. It also claims the law is unconstitutionally vague. 

In a separate challenge to the new state laws, judges in North Carolina ruled Friday that a photo voter identification law enacted this year is unconstitutional. 

The Superior Court judges said it was rushed through the state General Assembly to help Republicans retain power but with disregard for the racial bias it implies.

“Other, less restrictive voter ID laws would have sufficed to achieve the legitimate nonracial purposes of implementing the constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, deterring fraud, or enhancing voter confidence,” the ruling said.

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