Democrats are renewing their efforts to make the biggest overhaul to US elections in a generation and safeguard voting rights, setting up a battle with Republicans, who at a state level are making a huge effort in the opposite direction to reduce voting rights.
Democrats and Republicans both see the proposed federal legislation, which touches on nearly every aspect of the electoral process, as fundamental to their parties’ political futures. The Senate bill, similar to a version passed by the House earlier this month, could shape election outcomes for years to come, striking down hurdles to voting, requiring more disclosure from political donors, restricting partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts and bolstering election security and ethics laws.
The debate over who has the right to vote, and how elections are conducted, will play out for months, if not years. Democrats say they are trying to rebuild trust in the ballot after two tumultuous election cycles. Republicans charge the bill would strip power from the states and cement an unfair political advantage for Democrats.
Mary Clare Jalonick writes for the Associated Press that with Republicans unanimously opposed, the legislation presents a crucial test of how hard Biden and his party are willing to fight for their priorities, as well as those of their voters. Unless they unite around changing Senate rules, which now require 60 votes for most bills to advance, their chance to enshrine expansive voting protections could quickly slip away.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday it took “mighty movements and decades of fraught political conflict” to achieve the basic dignities of current election laws and “any American who thinks that the fight for a full and fair democracy is over, is sadly and sorely mistaken.”
Democrats see the measure as a forceful response to voting rights restrictions advancing in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s repeated, baseless claims of a stolen 2020 election.
“In the end, that insurrection was about an angry mob working to undermine our democracy,” Sen Amy Klobuchar said yesterday. “And it reminds all of us how very fragile our democracy truly is, and how it is on all of us to not just protect that democracy, but to ensure that it thrives.”
The Senate legislation would create automatic voter registration nationwide, allow former felons to vote, and limit the ways states can remove registered voters from their rolls. It would expand voting by mail, promote early voting and give states money to track absentee ballots.
The bill would increase oversight for election vendors and boost support for state voting system upgrades after Russia attempted to breach some of those systems in the 2016 election. It would overhaul federal oversight of campaign finance and encourage small donations to campaigns, while requiring more disclosure of political donations. And it would require states to adopt independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional districts and give more teeth to federal ethics enforcement.
The legislation is meant to counter the more than 250 bills have have been introduced in 43 states that would change how Americans vote. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell however described the proposed move in Congress a “clearly an effort by one party to rewrite the rules of our political system,” McConnell said.