WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US Senate Democrats on Tuesday (Sept 14) unveiled a new version of an election reform bill that is a top priority of President Joe Biden, amid a wave of Republican state legislatures imposing restrictions on voting.
Senator Amy Klobuchar and seven fellow Democrats, including moderates such as Joe Manchin, introduced the bill, which would set national standards for states to follow as they administer elections.
The Democratic senators said their bill, dubbed the “Freedom to Vote Act”, would ensure that all qualified voters can request mail-in ballots and have at least 15 days of early voting. The legislation also would allow people to register to vote as late as Election Day, which would become a public holiday.
“Following the 2020 elections in which more Americans voted than ever before, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country,” the senators said in a statement.
Michael Waldman, president of the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said the new legislation “gives powerful new momentum to the fight to protect democracy.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said he would schedule a vote on it soon and opened the door to Republican input in the meantime.
Noting that Democrats won the White House and control of the Senate in the last elections, Schumer said Republicans in several state legislatures were now “trying to stop the people who didn’t vote for them from voting.”
But with Republicans in Congress accusing Democrats of a “power grab” that would rob states of their ability to fashion voting rules, the legislation faces a tough battle in the Senate, which is divided 50-50 between the two parties.
In June, all 50 Senate Republicans banded together to block a more ambitious bill, leaving Democrats 10 votes short of the minimum needed for it to advance. Under the Senate’s “filibuster” rule, at least 60 votes in the 100-member chamber are needed for most legislation to advance.
The bill also would reduce the ability of states to fashion congressional districts in a partisan way and would aim to lift a veil of secrecy over some campaign contributions.
Democrats accused Republican-controlled states of imposing new voting rules to suppress Election Day turnout, especially among Black, Hispanic and young voters, many of whom lean Democratic.
Those Republican efforts expanded significantly after November’s US presidential election in which defeated ex-President Donald Trump falsely claimed he was the victim of widespread voter fraud – an allegation that was rejected multiple times by courts and by his own Justice Department.
In mid-term elections set for Nov 8, 2022, voters will decide whether control of the US Senate and House of Representatives should remain in Democratic hands or be turned over to Republicans.
Democrats hold the narrowest of majorities in Congress.
Last week, Texas joined the list of states enacting new election restrictions, which Biden called an “all-out assault” on American democracy.
The state’s new rules would make it harder for Texans to cast mail-in ballots and would add identification requirements for such voting.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the law would make it “harder for people to cheat at the ballot box”.
If Republicans again refuse to provide the support needed in the Senate for the bill to clear the 60-vote threshold, some Democrats are expected to urge Schumer to carve out an exception to the filibuster rule so that only a simple majority of the 100-seat Senate is required for passage.