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Dems Press for Broader Voter Access    05/12 06:20

   Republicans in the U.S. Senate mounted an aggressive case against Democrats' 
sweeping election and voter-access legislation, pushing to roll back proposals 
for automatic registration, 24-hour ballot drop boxes and other changes in an 
increasingly charged national debate.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans in the U.S. Senate mounted an aggressive case 
against Democrats' sweeping election and voter-access legislation, pushing to 
roll back proposals for automatic registration, 24-hour ballot drop boxes and 
other changes in an increasingly charged national debate.

   The legislation, a top priority of Democrats in the aftermath of the 
divisive 2020 election, would bring about the largest overhaul of U.S. voting 
in a generation, touching nearly every aspect of the electoral process. It 
would remove hurdles to voting erected in the name of election security and 
curtail the influence of big money in politics.

   At the end of a long, contentious day, the Rules Committee deadlocked 9-9 on 
Tuesday over advancing the bill to the full Senate in its current form. That 
leaves it to Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to try to invoke a special process 
to force the legislation ahead.

   Though it is federal legislation, Republicans are fighting a national 
campaign against it rooted in state battles to restrict new ways of voting that 
have unfolded during the pandemic. Just Tuesday, the Arizona Legislature sent 
the governor a bill that would make it easier to purge infrequent voters from a 
list of those who automatically get mail-in ballots, the latest battleground 
state to push through changes likely to take months or years to finally settle 
in court.

   GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is so determined to stop the 
legislation that he made a rare appearance at Tuesday's Rules Committee session 
in Washington. McConnell and other Republicans on the panel argued for a wave 
of amendments against key sections of the bill, which Democrats turned aside in 
an hours-long voting session.

   McConnell declared, "Our democracy is not in crisis" and said he wasn't 
about to cede control of elections to new laws "under the false pretense of 
saving it."

   With Democrats holding the White House and narrow control of Congress, they 
see the legislation as crucial -- perhaps their best chance to counter efforts 
by state-level Republicans who have seized on former President Donald Trump's 
false claims about the 2020 election to push ballot restrictions.

   Yet even as they tout the measure, Democrats find themselves playing 
defense, unable to push their legislative response to President Joe Biden's 
desk. While the elections overhaul has passed the House, there's no clear path 
forward in the Senate, which is split 50-50. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia 
and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have both said they oppose making changes to the 
Senate's filibuster rules, which would be needed to maneuver the bill past 
unified Republican opposition.

   Trump's election claims, which have only increased in the six months since 
his defeat, were rejected by Republican as well as Democratic election 
officials in state after state, by U.S. cybersecurity officials and by courts 
up to the U.S. Supreme Court. And his attorney general said there was no 
evidence of fraud that could change the election outcome.

   "President Trump told a big lie, one of the biggest ever told. We all know 
that. Every single person in this room knows that," Sen. Schumer, the 
Democratic majority leader, said at the hearing. "And it's taking root, this 
big lie is taking root in our country, not just in the minds of his voters but 
in the laws of the land."

   The laws emerging around the country "are about one thing and one thing 
alone: making it harder for Americans to vote," he said.

   The Democrats' measure would not stop every bill being passed in Republican 
states across the country. But it would make it difficult, if not impossible, 
for states to press ahead with many of the new rules.

   That's because the legislation would create nationwide rules for early 
voting and no-excuse absentee voting, standardizing the process. Currently, six 
states don't offer early, in-person voting and a third of states still require 
an excuse -- such as illness or planning to be away from home on Election Day 
-- to vote by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

   Republicans walked a narrow line during much of the discussion on Tuesday, 
criticizing congressional Democrats for seeking to change voting rules while at 
the same time offering robust support for GOP state lawmakers who are doing the 
same.

   The GOP senators cited high voter turnout in last year's presidential 
election during the pandemic as proof that the system worked without the 
Democrats' changes and voters were not disenfranchised. But they offered little 
justification for GOP efforts at the state level to impose new limits on 
voting, particularly mail voting.

   Republicans also attacked provisions that would create a new public 
financing system for political campaigns and strengthen the enforcement 
capabilities of the federal agency tasked with policing elections, as well as 
dozens of other proposals that would dictate how states conduct their elections.

   "This bill doesn't protect voting rights, it steals voting rights from the 
American people," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

   While Republicans argue the new state rules are needed to secure the vote, 
critics warn the states are seeking to reduce voter access, particularly for 
Black voters, who are a crucial part of the Democratic Party base. That could 
usher in a new Jim Crow era for the 21st century, they warn.

   "These bills moving in state capitals across America are not empty threats, 
they are real efforts to stop people from voting," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a 
Minnesota Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee.

   Yet moderate members of the Democratic caucus -- not just Republicans -- 
pose a sizable obstacle to the bill becoming law.

   Manchin has called for any elections overhaul to be done on a bipartisan 
basis, despite Republican insistence that no changes are necessary. Other 
Democrats want to pare back the bill to core voting protections to try to put 
Republicans on the spot.

   Democrats have been making their own changes to draw more support.

   In the latest version of the legislation, states would have more time and 
flexibility to put new federal rules in place. Some election officials had 
complained of unrealistic timelines, increased costs and onerous requirements.

   States would have more time to launch same-day voter registration at polling 
places and to comply with new voting system requirements. They would also be 
able to apply for an extension if they were unable to meet the deadline for 
automatic voter registration. Officials have said these are complex processes 
that require equipment changes or upgrades that will take time.

   Democrats are also dropping a requirement that local election offices 
provide self-sealing envelopes with mail ballots and cover the costs of return 
postage. They plan to require the U.S. Postal Service to carry mail ballots and 
ballot request forms free of charge, with the federal government picking up the 
tab.

   But Republicans argue the changes would do little to limit what they view as 
unwarranted federal intrusions into local elections.

   "Giving states more time to implement bad policy doesn't make the policy 
less bad," said Sen Roy Blunt of Missouri, the ranking minority member on the 
committee. "I think the federal government taking over elections is the wrong 
thing to do."

 
 
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