Republican Senator Mitch McConnell has criticised a sweeping voting rights proposal as a “solution in search of a problem” despite more than 250 proposals in statehouses across the US to restrict ballot access.
He called the measure an attempt among congressional Democrats to “rewrite the rules of our system” as he claimed that GOP lawmakers “are not engaging in trying to suppress voters, whatsoever.”
His comments preceded a Senate Rules Committee hearing on S1, or the For the People Act, which would adopt the largest voting rights and election protection rules since the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act, if signed into law.
It serves as an antidote to the wave of suppressive voting rights measures in at least 43 state legislatures, propelled by spurious claims of voting “irregularities” in 2020 elections and Donald Trump’s loss in the presidential race.
The For The People Act would standardise voting access at the federal level, eliminate long-standing barriers to voting and allow candidates with smaller platforms to wield more political power, among other provisions.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called proposals in Arizona – which has proposed banning automatic and same-day voter registration and notarisation for mail-in ballots – “the most despicable thing I’ve seen in all my years.”
Mr Schumer said “the most reprehensible effort of all may be found in Georgia,” where lawmakers are mulling a massive omnibus elections bill that would give the state broad authority over local election officials, limit early voting periods and add voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots.
“This is infuriating,” he said.
The For The People Act passed the House of Representatives earlier this month, but it faces overwhelming Republican opposition in the Senate, prompting President Joe Biden and leading Democratic senators to consider amending filibuster rules to pass critical legislation without relying on significant bipartisan support.
Committee chair Amy Klobuchar condemned GOP officials invoking the word “chaos” to describe the impact of the For The People Act, adding that “chaos” is nationwide efforts to purge voter rolls for “inactive” voters, cut absentee ballot drop-off boxes in large counties like an attempt in Texas, hours-long lines to vote in states across the US, and discriminatory voter ID laws like one that was struck down in North Carolina by a judge who said it was engineered with “surgical precision” to discriminate against African Americans.
“What this bill tries to do is simply make it easier for people to vote, and take the best practices we’ve seen across the country and put it into law,” she said.
Democrats and voting rights advocates have argued that Republican state lawmakers are emboldened by the former president’s persistent lie that the election was stolen from him, as the GOP revives attempts to do what Mr Trump and his attorneys could not following his election loss, as well as Democratic victories in the US Senate races in Georgia that shifted the balance of power in Congress.
Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita of Indiana – who called for the US Supreme Court to consider a lawsuit by the state of Texas that challenged election results in four states that Mr Trump lost, and who falsely suggested that the election was “stolen” from him – claimed that the For The People Act would open elections to “fraud and irregularities”.
He said 2020 elections generated “unease or outright distrust about results”.
Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff took aim at Mr Rokita for amplifying baseless election fraud claims and his failure to assure voters of the integrity of the election results, which fulled violence at the Capitol on 6 January.
He said: “Public uncertainty of the election was caused by a public misinformation campaign led by a vain president ... who undertook a scorched earth effort to undermine the integrity of our election process that was so violent it culminated in an insurrection on the Capitol.”
Senator Ted Cruz falsely claimed that S1 would automatically register “illegal aliens” to vote and that “criminals and illegal aliens are much more likely to vote for Democrats.”
“The single most dangerous bill this committee has ever considered,” he said.
Former US Attorney General Eric Holder, now the chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, asserted that “there was no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud in the 2020 election or at any other time.”
“Yet state legislatures have used these baseless assertions as a pretext” for restrictive voting laws, he said.
The amount of fraud is “not enough to justify the draconian” measures that S1 aims to block.
Michael Waldman, president of Brennan Center for Justice, which has analysed the state of voting rights legislation and ballot restrictions across the US, called S1 “the next great civil rights bill.”
“This legislation would stop this wave of voter suppression cold. It stops it in its tracks,” he said.
An analysis from the Voter Protection Program of the For The People Act’s impacts among nine states reports that “America faces a stark choice between embracing a dangerous, Big Lie-based anti-voter ideology, or one that empowers the American voter and secures our democracy.”
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