Senate Democrats are plowing forward with their sweeping election reform bill they argue is necessary to safeguard voting rights that are “under attack,” but Republicans have pledged to fight the legislation they’ve dubbed a Democratic “power grab” to federalize local elections.
The clashing views will come to a head Tuesday morning when the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday will hold a hearing to advance the election overhaul legislation that’s numbered S.1 to signify it’s the Democratic majority’s top priority in the Senate.
If the last hearing on the S.1 was any indication, tensions will be high as Democrats try to pass the bill out of committee and send it to a showdown vote on the Senate floor. During the March 24 hearing on the bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., launched heated broadsides against each other.
“Shame, shame, shame,” Schumer said while referring to GOP efforts to tighten voting rules on the state level after Democrats won the 2020 election.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., praises his Democratic Caucus at a news conference just after the Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, March 6, 2021. Schumer has voted the Senate will take up S.1, the Democrats’ sweeping election reform legislation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
“Instead of doing what you should be doing when you lose an election in a democracy, attempting to win over those voters in the next election, Republicans instead are trying to disenfranchise those voters,” Schumer said. “Shame on them.”
McConnell, however, said Democrats were trying to “forcibly rewrite” election laws in all 50 states and turn the Federal Election Commission into a partisan body to enforce campaign laws.
“Talk about shame. If anybody ought to be feeling any shame around here, it’s turning the FEC into a partisan prosecutor, the majority controlled by the president’s party, to harass and intimidate the other side,” McConnell said during the March 24 hearing. “That’s what you ought to be ashamed about.”
The backdrop for the legislation is the fate of the Senate’s legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes to advance most legislation. With the Senate split 50-50, Democrats would have to win over 10 Republicans to pass the bill, which seems impossible given the fierce GOP opposition.
So progressives argue that voting rights legislation should be the landmark bill to abolish the filibuster and pass the legislation with a simple majority. Schumer has vowed to bring S.1 up for a vote and signaled this legislation may change the rules.
“The process that I outlined for S.1 is a process that, I think, could very well cause the Senate to evolve,” Schumer told The New York Times‘ Ezra Klein in April in reference to the filibuster.
The House already passed its version of H.R. 1 in March in a party-line vote. The legislation sets up a new public financing system for congressional and presidential elections to incentivize small-dollar donations. The legislation would establish a 6-to-1 match for each grassroots contribution to a candidate up to $200.
The elections bill would also enact automatic voter registration, restore voting rights to felons after they have completed their sentences, mandate same-day voter registration and require states to send absentee ballots at least 45 days before an election. The legislation weakens state-mandated voter ID requirements by allowing those without photo identification to still vote by signing sworn affidavits.
In this Oct. 12, 2020, file photo, people wait in line for early voting at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Ga. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP, File) (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP, File)
It also prohibits voter roll purges and partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, imposes new campaign finance rules and requires presidential nominees to release 10 years of tax returns.
Republicans said the new federal rules would force all state and local election officials to change their voting procedures to fit Democrats’ demands and create more distrust in doing so.
“This bill would require all of these changes to be made very quickly — so quickly that should this legislation be enacted, chaos will reign in the next election and voters will have even less faith in the integrity of their elections than they currently do,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Democrats are motivated by GOP-led voting changes in places like Georgia and Florida in the wake of the 2020 election when Democrats won the House, Senate and White House. Democrats view the new rules as suppression efforts to make it harder to vote, while Republicans say the updated laws are needed to ensure election integrity.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the chair of the Rules Committee, authored a revised version of the bill she’ll put forth Tuesday as a substitute amendment that is expected to give states more flexibility and a longer timeframe for enacting the requirements of the federal voting rights bill. This includes more leeway for state and local governments to implement the early voting, absentee voting and updated voting systems provisions.
Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in March the legislation is needed to combat threats to democracy.
“At a time when the right to vote is under attack and special interests and dark money are drowning out the voices of the American people, we need to take action,” she said.