Senate Democrats launched a new bid Wednesday to rewrite America’s voting laws, highlighting Republican opposition to the effort and adding fuel to the left’s calls to end the filibuster rules that allow the GOP to block liberal priorities.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the first piece of business when the senators return from a summer break will be to pass a scaled-back version of the massive elections bill.
“Republicans refusing to support voting rights is not an excuse for Democrats to do nothing,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat.
It remains doubtful that they would have any more luck in September than they did in June when a Republican filibuster felled the bill that Democrats named the For the People Act.
The legislation faces fierce opposition from Republicans. It would put a federal stamp on state elections by setting rules for everything from redistricting to mail-in voting and voter ID laws.
“After ramming through this reckless taxing and spending spree, here in the dead of night, they also want to start tearing up the ground rules of our democracy … writing new ones, of course, on a purely partisan basis,” said Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
The resurrection of the voting bill coincided with liberal advocacy groups renewed their calls for Senate Democrats to undo the filibuster, which requires most legislation to clear a 60-vote hurdle to survive.
“It is vital that Senate Democrats and the Biden administration make the For the People Act a priority. They must outline a path forward to ensuring our freedom to vote, and not let an arcane Senate rule impede progress,” said Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of civil rights groups.
The rule change would need unanimous support among the chamber’s 50 Democrats, many of whom are leery of the change because it would dramatically alter the character of an institution known as the world’s greatest deliberative body.
The most vocal opposition has come from the more moderate Democratic voices: Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
While the filibuster remains the prime obstacle, Democrats also have not found a voting rights bill they can all agree on.
Senate Democrats have been working on a compromise election bill, but failed to strike an agreement before lawmakers left this week for summer vacation.
Mr. Manchin, who is among the negotiating team, threw cold water on Democrats’ more ambitious plans by saying he would not go as far as his fellow Democrats want on several fronts.
He said there are limits to what he would agree to on voter ID laws, which is one of Republicans’ chief objections to the legislation.
“I firmly believe that we need commonsense voter ID requirements,” Mr. Manchin said.
A key provision in their bill would have circumvented state voter ID laws by allowing people without IDs to instead sign a statement attesting that they are who they say they are. Democrats said the workaround was needed because tough ID requirements in some Republican-run states will keep minorities from voting, a charge Republicans insist is a lie.
“We are witnessing the most sweeping and coordinated attacks on voting rights since the era of Jim Crow,” Mr. Schumer said before a pre-dawn procedural vote Wednesday that revived the bill.
Republicans have said that states are enacting stronger requirements, including voter ID laws, to minimize the chances of election fraud. By trying to make it easier for voters to cast absentee ballots or not show ID, they said, shows that Democrats who are trying weaken election integrity and possibly skew in favor of Democrats.
Mr. Manchin also objected to plans by fellow Democrats to expand mail-in voting and block states from updating voter rolls, which are both top priorities for his party.
He said it should not prohibit states from having “guardrails” on absentee voting “or prevent local elections officials from doing basic maintenance of voting rolls.”
According to the left-of-center Brennan Center, states removed almost 16 million voters from the rolls between 2014, a third more than between 2006 and 2008. The Democrats’ voting bill would have required states to confirm through other state records that a person was no longer eligible to vote before removing them from the rolls.
Democrats have accused GOP election officials of manipulating the voter rolls to disenfranchise Black voters. Republicans counter that keeping voter roll up to date is not discriminatory.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, came under fire from the left in June when his office removed 101,789 voters from the rolls. He said the voters had submitted a U.S. Postal Service change of address form, had election mail sent to them returned, or had no contact with elections officials for five years.
“Making sure Georgia’s voter rolls are up to date is key to ensuring the integrity of our elections,” Mr. Raffensperger said at the time. “There is no legitimate reason to keep ineligible voters on the rolls.”
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