Senate Republicans give cool reception to Democrats’ election overhaul legislation

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The Democrats’ massive election overhaul bill received a cool reception on Wednesday from Senate Republicans who said it would inject partisanship into the election system and invite fraud, including registering millions of undocumented immigrants to vote.

“This legislation is just not ready for prime time. It is an invitation to chaos,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

He said some Americans on the political left refused to accept the results of the 2016 presidential election and some on the right refused to accept 2020 results. Lawmakers should work together to restore trust in elections, he said, but the Democrats’ bill is partisan and won’t help boost election integrity.

“We should be finding ways to rebuild trust — not destroy it further — but that’s exactly what a partisan power grab would guarantee,” Mr. McConnell said at the first Senate hearing on the Democrats’ plan to remake elections.

Democrats argued that chaos would erupt if Congress doesn’t counter Republican-run legislatures trying to tighten state election laws, which Democrats said would erect barriers to voting and suppress voting by people of color.

“Chaos is purging names of longtime voters,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, and chairman of the Rules Committee. “Chaos is the state of Texas declaring you can only have one drop-off box in their state including large counties like Harris County’s 5 million people.”

Harris County, Texas, includes Houston and has a large Black population. It had one mail-in ballot drop box in the 2020 elections.

The Democrats’ bill, which is titled the For The People Act, would dictate how many drop boxes a state must have and where they can be placed.

The more than 800-page bill also mandates that states establish automatic voter registration of people with driver’s licenses and students attending universities.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said the automatic registration would result in noncitizens being signed up to vote across the nation.

Mr. Cruz called it “the single most dangerous bill this committee has ever considered.”

Senate Republicans warned that the legislation would create a partisan Federal Election Commission by altering the commission’s bipartisan membership to give the majority party an edge.

The bill also requires states to use certain voting machines but does not include federal funding. Many states would have to purchase all-new machines and equipment.

The bill sets a wide range of rules impacting elections and other aspects of political life, including:

⦁ allowing mail-in ballots to be counted up to 10 days past Election Day

⦁ ordering states to allow early voting for at least two weeks

⦁ mandating requirements on voter registration

⦁ requiring the creation of commissions to handle redistricting instead of state legislatures

⦁ implementing ethics standards for the Supreme Court

⦁ and requiring the disclosure of tax returns for presidential candidates.

With Democrats now running the Senate, the chamber took the election rewrite for the first time on Wednesday. House Democrats have pushed for the overhaul since 2018 and passed their latest version of the bill earlier this month.

The For The People Act, like other hot-button legislation, faces a perilous path forward in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Most bills need 60 votes to survive in the upper chamber.

Pressure from House Democrats and the party’s liberals is mounting on Senate Democrats to rewrite the chamber’s 60-vote rule to force the legislation through on a party-line vote.

Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who is the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, said there are aspects of the legislation he could support.

“I think there’s so much good in there, and so many things I think all of us should be able to be united around voting rights, but it should be limited to the voting rights and not exclusively to so many other areas,” he told reporters.

At the hearing before the Rules Committee, Republicans and Democrats called experts to testify on the legislation.

Todd Rokita, the attorney general of Indiana, said “the sun won’t set” before his state sues in court over the For the People Act if it is enacted, questioning the constitutionality of the federal government policing state elections.

Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who founded the National Democratic Redistricting Committee after his time as Americas’ top cop in the Obama administration, lauded the bill’s mandate that states create independent commissions to redistrict rather than have state legislatures draw the lines.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said voters created an independent commission to redistrict in her state and other election law changes ahead of 2020 led to 2 million more residents voting in 2020 than in 2016.

“Federal minimum standards ensure equal protection of every citizen’s right to vote,” she said.

But West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, a Republican, told lawmakers the bill overrules checks and balances by federalizing elections.

“This 800-page monstrosity stomps on states’ rights,” he said.

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