The Financial Express

Voting rights debate takes centre-stage in US Senate

| Updated: January 22, 2022 10:16:54

The U.S. Capitol is seen at sunset on the eve of the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the building, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz The U.S. Capitol is seen at sunset on the eve of the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the building, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

The US Senate as early as Wednesday could kick off a pair of votes on an election reform bill that is a top Democratic priority but faces dim prospects against a united front of Republican opposition.

If Republicans defeat the bill, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to try to change the Senate's filibuster rule requiring 60 of the 100 senators to agree on most legislation -- a maneuver likely to be blocked by at least two members of his own party opposed to changing Senate rules.

Democrats paint the bill as crucial to protecting the American political system as Republican-led states pass a wave of new voting restrictions, driven by former President Donald Trump's false claims of widespread election fraud. Republicans dismiss the bill as a partisan power grab.

Asked about Democrats' chances of bringing an election reform bill across the finish line, No. 2 Senate Democrat Dick Durbin told reporters late on Tuesday: "I know what it looks like today and I'm praying that something else will happen tomorrow."

That is unlikely, as Republicans have given no sign their 50 members will abandon unanimous opposition to the voting rights protections Democrats have crafted. Meanwhile, Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and possibly others, are expected to block their party's effort to change the Senate's filibuster rule to make it easier to pass partisan bills.

"This is about one party wanting the power to unilaterally rewrite the rule book of American elections," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday of the Democratic legislation.

As Republican after Republican accused Democrats of trying to usurp states' rights to administer elections, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock said their arguments "have sounded uncannily familiar" to segregationists' opposition to civil rights legislation of the 1960s, which ultimately succeeded.

If the week ends in failure for President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats in Congress, attention is expected to turn to a possible bipartisan effort by a small group of moderate senators to fashion narrower election rule changes.

Such an effort could include new federal funding to help protect non-partisan state election workers from threats against their safety, which have been mounting since the 2020 presidential election. Also under discussion are ways to tighten the way Congress certifies presidential elections every four years.

The battle over voting procedures and campaign finance reforms comes against the backdrop of several Republican-controlled state legislatures' stripping away some of the get-out-the-vote practices allowed in 2020 while piling on new restrictions.

Their efforts have been embraced and encouraged by Trump. More than a year after his November 2020 loss to Democrat Biden, Trump has continually and falsely insisted that the election was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud.

That claim has been debunked by multiple court decisions, Trump's own Justice Department and Republican-instigated investigations.

Among the practices that Democrats want to turn into minimum federal voting standards are the opportunity for any registered voter to request a mail-in ballot, at least two weeks of early voting, and ballot drop boxes that make voting more convenient in many areas.

The Democrats' legislation also would attempt to remove partisanship from the way congressional districts are redrawn every decade. Currently, "gerrymandering" regularly tilts the field to whichever party is in power in the various states.


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