The effort by US Democrats to enact nationwide reforms to voting rights lacks support from Republicans.
Republicans in the United States Senate are poised to block debate on sweeping election reform legislation proposed by Democrats and backed by President Joe Biden setting the stage for a confrontation between the two top political parties over US election law.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday he would bring legislation titled For the People Act to the Senate for debate, a move that requires 60 senators to agree. Republicans, however, who control 50 of 100 Senate seats have lined up against the legislation.
“They don’t even want to debate it, don’t even want to debate it because they’re afraid,” railed Schumer in Senate floor remarks.
“They want to deny the right to vote, make it harder to vote for so many Americans. And they don’t want to talk about it, sweep it under the rug and hope that Americans don’t hear about it,” Schumer said.
The For the People Act would require all US states to implement automatic voter registration, offer voting by mail, and deploy new voting machines among other reforms.
Signalling the importance Democrats attach to the moment and the closeness of the evenly divided US Senate, the White House said Vice President Kamala Harris would preside over the Senate for the vote on Tuesday night giving Democrats a 51-50 majority.
While the bill was sold by Democrats as an election integrity bill, Republicans opposed the measure as a federal overreach that would enhance Democrat’s political power and further undermine public confidence in US elections.
Importantly, the bill would roll back new voting restriction laws being passed in the Republican-controlled state legislatures that have sparked outrage among voting rights advocates.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the bill a “transparently partisan plan” by Democrats “to tilt every election in America permanently in their favour”.
“Today the Senate will prevent this dangerous partisan takeover of our electoral system from moving forward,” said Senator John Thune, a leading Republican.
In a rare step to present-day politics, former President Barack Obama had given his backing to a bipartisan bid by Democratic centrist Joe Manchin to craft a compromise bill with Republicans. But McConnell and others had rejected that too.
Republican legislators in politically significant US states have passed new voting restrictions following the 2020 election which saw record turnout.
“State legislatures … across the country are passing a wave of anti-voter laws based on the same repeatedly disproven lies that led to an assault on our nation’s Capitol,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said referencing the January 6 attack on the US Congress by Trump supporters.
“They are putting these laws in place because they did not like the outcome and they have continued to perpetuate a lie about the outcome of the election,” Psaki said.
At least 14 states have enacted 22 new laws that restrict access to voting in a backlash to Biden’s 2020 election win on a record turnout.
Former President Donald Trump continues to claim without evidence the 2020 election was stolen even though courts have rejected his claims of fraud in key states for lack of evidence.
Republican “refusal to even allow debate on the For the People Act would be seen for what it is, a ringing endorsement for former President Trump’s conspiracy theories and his attacks on our elections, on reality itself”, said Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat.
Failure of the Senate to debate the bill will amplify talk in Washington about revising Senate “filibuster” rules to allow legislation to be brought up with fewer than 60 votes.
The Senate deadlock will place focus in public debate on new, more narrowly crafted voting rights legislation being developed by Black legislators in the US House of Representatives.