Senate Panel Deadlocks on Sweeping Election Reform Bill

Senators voted 9-9 on advancing the For the People Act to the full chamber, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could still bring it up for a floor vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., listens during a Senate Rules Committee hearing Tuesday on the For the People Act. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Stiff opposition from Republicans on Tuesday prevented a voting rights bill from advancing out of a Senate committee to the full chamber.

The For the People Act, which was passed in the House in March by a narrow margin, would alter nearly every aspect of the electoral process, from eliminating hurdles to the ballot box, restricting partisan gerrymandering by allowing federal courts to draw districts and shining light on ominous dark money campaign donations.

The bill is Democrats’ answer to voting restrictions passed by several red states, including Georgia and Florida, in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election.

After an all-day hearing in the Senate Rules Committee, the vote on moving the legislation out of committee to the full Senate was tied 9-9. The result is that the measure has not been advanced out of committee, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can still bring a motion to discharge it out of the committee for a debate and floor vote if he so chooses.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who chairs the committee, said 38 bills to restrict voting access have already passed at least one chamber of their state’s legislature. She said lawmakers and all Americans were reminded how important protecting access to democracy is when pro-Trump insurrectionists led an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“As we move forward, I can think of no more vital task then bolstering our democracy and this bill was introduced to do just that, by making sure our government works for the people,” Klobuchar said.

Schumer noted the question of who should be allowed to participate in American democracy was first asked by the founders, who determined the answer is white, land-owning men, who were often of Protestant faith. By 1800, he said, barely more than one in 10 Americans were allowed to vote.

Even as the right to vote has expanded, Schumer said, there are still active threats to ensuring every eligible American has a right to vote. One of those threats is Trump’s rhetoric — in particular, the “big lie” he continues to repeat about how the 2020 election was stolen from him, or was in some way fraudulent.

“Here in the 21st century, we are witnessing an attempt at the greatest contraction of voting rights since the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow,” Schumer said. “All across the country, Republicans no longer want to let the voters pick their politicians, they want to let politicians pick their voters — deliberately targeting all the ways that younger, poorer and non-white Americans typically access the ballot.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who noted he was the Senate Rules Committee chair in 2002 when the body eventually passed the Help America Vote Act by a large bipartisan margin, said lawmakers back then didn’t want to alert some of the voting provisions that would be changed by the For the People Act. By contrast, he said the 2002 law deliberately did not allow the federal government to tell states how to set up elections.

“This legislation would let Washington Democrats dictate the terms of their own reelection races by rewriting all 50 states’ election laws,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Popular safeguards like voter ID would be neutered. Ludicrous practices like ballot harvesting would be mandatory coast to coast.”

A myriad of amendments were offered in Tuesday’s hearing that stretched beyond seven hours.

One amendment offered by Klobuchar at the outset of the hearing that would have given states more time to make improvements to their voting systems and implement procedures outlined in the bill failed in a party-line vote. As the makeup of the Senate Rules Committee is equally divided, amendments that received equal votes failed.

Many Republicans lawmakers argued the transformation of the Federal Election Commission to include a more bipartisan makeup of members, a provision of the For the People Act, would politicize the body.

Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, objected to that provision and also offered an amendment that would have entirely removed a portion of the bill that would allow for the public matching of campaign donations under $200. His amendment also failed on a party-line vote.

An amendment offered by Senator Jon Ossoff, a freshman Democrat representing Georgia, would have allowed individuals not involved in the electoral process to hand out snacks and water as voters waited to get inside their polling place, a practice that is banned by Georgia’s new law. But that amendment was also defeated along party lines, with Blunt arguing federal lawmakers shouldn’t be governing small, minute details of local elections.

“If I’d been in line for four hours and I had no strong feeling about the sheriff’s race and somebody comes up with a bottle of water and said, ‘enjoy the water, I’m just here today because I care about my cousin who’s running for sheriff,’ and mentions his name, it might have some impact on me,” Blunt said. “We’ve gone to great lengths not to let that sort of thing happen in our various states.”

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