May 12

By Richard Cowan

A battle over U.S. political campaigns and elections erupted in the Senate on Tuesday as Democrats tried to advance a sweeping bill they argued would expand access to voting, even as Republican-controlled states rushed to impose new restrictions.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee braced for a day-long fight over an 886-page bill written by Democrats, with the input of some state elections officials.

Among its provisions are requirements that states expand mail-in voting that was used widely in last year’s presidential election because of the coronavirus pandemic. It also would lengthen the hours of in-person balloting.

The unusual appearance of the Senate’s top Democratic and Republican leaders at the committee’s work session underscored what was at stake with such legislation being advanced as the November 2022 congressional elections came into focus.

“The bill before this committee has a very simple premise: make it easier, not harder, to vote,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said.

He devoted most of his remarks, however, to the slew of election-law changes being enacted in Republican-controlled states this year, characterizing them as anti-democratic and saying, “They carry the stench of oppression.”

House of Representatives and Senate bills go beyond election reforms by attempting to end the partisan way in which congressional districts are drawn and curbing “dark money” campaign contributions that obscure the identity of donors.

Hovering over the Senate committee’s work was former President Donald Trump, who for months has been falsely claiming there was massive voter fraud in the 2020 election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Election fraud is extremely rare in the United States, according to researchers.

Multiple courts and state and federal election officials rejected Trump’s claim last year.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the Democrats’ bill represented nothing more than a power grab.

“This legislation would let Washington Democrats dictate the terms of their own re-election races by rewriting all 50 states’ election laws,” McConnell said.

He zeroed in on provisions he said would foster fraudulent elections by loosening voter identification laws and allowing people to collect and turn in other voters’ ballots, such as for those in remote locations or in nursing homes.

The bill faces long odds in the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would have to join with Democrats for it to pass.

In March, the Democratic-controlled House passed a bill similar to the Senate version but without any Republican support.

Last week, Florida enacted new limits on voting by mail and using ballot drop boxes. Texas also is in the process of approving new controls. read more

That follows Georgia’s enactment in March of a far-reaching Republican election law bill that includes a prohibition on offering food or water to voters waiting in long lines.

A Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll found in March that 81% of adults said it was “very” or “somewhat” important that the government make it easier for people to vote. But the same poll also showed that 74% found it equally important that new limits on voting be imposed to protect elections from fraud.