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GOP to Fight Voting Bill      05/11 07:06

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans are preparing to launch an all-out assault on 
sweeping voting rights legislation, forcing Democrats to take dozens of 
politically difficult votes during a committee hearing that will spotlight the 
increasingly charged national debate over access to the ballot.

   The bill, as written, would bring about the largest overhaul of U.S. 
elections in a generation, touching on almost every aspect of the electoral 
process. Democrats say the changes are even more important now as 
Republican-controlled states impose new voting restrictions after the divisive 
2020 election.

   Yet it's a motivating issue for Republicans, too, with GOP Senate leader 
Mitch McConnell so determined to stop Democrats that he will personally argue 
against the measure, a rare role for a party leader that shows the extent to 
which Republicans are prepared to fight as a hearing for the bill begins 
Tuesday.

   That's on top of scores of amendments Republicans will propose to highlight 
aspects of the bill they believe are unpopular, including public financing for 
congressional campaigns and an overhaul of the federal agency that polices 
elections.

   What's typically an hours-long legislative slog could drag into a dayslong 
showdown in the Senate Rules Committee, as Democrats look to advance one of 
their key priorities to a vote in the full Senate.

   "It's a vast federal takeover of all American elections. It's a horrible 
bill," McConnell said during an interview that aired last weekend on KET, a PBS 
affiliate in his native Kentucky. "I'm going to do everything I can and my 
colleagues are going to do everything we can to prevent it."

   The action in Congress comes as states including Georgia, Florida, Arizona 
and Texas are pushing new voting rules, spurred by former President Donald 
Trump's false claims about election fraud after his 2020 loss.

   Democrats are on defense, having been unable to halt the onslaught of new 
state rules that will take months or years to litigate in court. That leaves 
passage of legislation through Congress as one of the few remaining options to 
counteract the GOP efforts.

   Republicans argue the new state rules are needed to clamp down on mail 
ballots and other methods that became popular during the pandemic, but critics 
warn the states are seeking to reduce voter access, particularly for Black 
voters, ushering in a new Jim Crow era for the 21st century.

   There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Trump's claims were 
rejected by Republican and Democratic election officials in state after state, 
by U.S. cybersecurity officials and by courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court. And 
his attorney general at the time said there was no evidence of fraud that could 
change the election outcome.

   McConnell won't be the only high-profile figure at Tuesday's hearing.

   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is also expected to stop in at 
the Rules panel meeting to add his weight to the debate.

   On Monday he said the coming debate would test if Republicans are willing to 
work on "improving out democracy" or whether they were more interested in "in 
helping aiding and abetting" Trump's "big lie" about the 2020 election.

   "Our Republican colleagues face a critical choice between working with 
Democrats in good faith to pass a law to protect our democracy, or siding with 
Republican state legislatures that are orchestrating the largest contraction of 
voting rights in decades," Schumer said.

   President Joe Biden has said the federal legislation would "restore the soul 
of America" by giving everyone equal access to the vote.

   The legislation, known as the For the People Act, was given top billing on 
the Democratic agenda, but the path ahead is unclear. Despite the expected 
showing from McConnell, who has cultivated a reputation for turning the Senate 
into a legislative graveyard, moderate members of the Democratic caucus also 
pose a sizable obstacle to the bill becoming law.

   Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have both 
said they oppose making changes to the Senate's filibuster rules, which would 
be needed to maneuver the bill past Republican opposition and pass it with a 
simple majority in a 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris delivering 
the tiebreaking 51st vote.

   Manchin has called for any elections overhaul to be done on a bipartisan 
basis. Other Democrats want to pare back the bill to core voting protections to 
try to put Republicans on the spot.

   House resolution H.R. 1, and its companion, S. 1, in the Senate have been in 
the works for several years. As passed by the House in March, the legislation 
would create automatic voter registration nationwide, require states to offer 
15 days of early voting, require more disclosure from political donors and 
restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, among other 
changes. It would also compel states to offer no-excuse absentee voting.

   In particular, it would force the disclosure of donors to "dark money" 
political groups, which are a magnet for wealthy interests looking to influence 
the political process while remaining anonymous.

   McConnell has spent a career fighting for the free flow of campaign cash as 
a constitutionally protected right to free speech.

   One Republican aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the 
situation without authorization said they are planning to try to strike full 
sections of the bill and introduce other changes.

   Democrats have been making their own changes to the bill to draw support. 
Manchin has not yet signed on, and his backing will be crucial.

   In the latest version of the legislation, states would have more time and 
flexibility to put new federal rules in place. Some election officials had 
complained of unrealistic timelines, increased costs and onerous requirements.

   States would have more time to launch same-day voter registration at polling 
places and to comply with new voting system requirements. They would also be 
able to apply for an extension if they were unable to meet the deadline for 
automatic voter registration. Officials have said these are complex processes 
that require equipment changes or upgrades that will take time to get in place.

   Democrats are also dropping a requirement that local election offices 
provide self-sealing envelopes with mail ballots and cover the costs of return 
postage. Instead, they plan to require the U.S. Postal Service to carry mail 
ballots and ballot request forms free of charge, with the federal government 
picking up the tab.

   Manchin told reporters Monday that he hadn't yet reviewed the changes but 
remained open to supporting the bill.

   "We are looking at everything. We hope there's a pathway there," he said.

 
 
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