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Senate committee to hold markup on voting and elections bill

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Washington — The Senate Rules Committee will consider amendments on Tuesday to S.1, the For the People Act, a massive voting and elections bill that Democrats claim is necessary to counter new voting restrictions being considered by multiple states.

Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar announced last month that the committee would hold a “markup” session on the bill on May 11, after a hearing on the bill in late March which included feedback from state and local election officials. During a markup, members of the committee may propose changes or amendments to the bill, followed by a final vote on whether to advance the bill to the Senate floor.

The House approved the For the People Act by a vote of 220 to 210 in March, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it. The bill would overhaul government ethics and campaign finance laws, and seek to strengthen voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and expanding access to early and absentee voting. It also includes some measures that would require states to overhaul their registration systems, limit states’ ability to remove people from voter rolls, increase federal funds for election security, and reform the redistricting process.

Some of the provisions included in the bill are broadly popular. A Pew Research poll from April found that 61% of Americans support automatic registration for citizens who are eligible to vote, and 78% support making early and in-person voting available to voters for at least two weeks prior to Election Day. But county election clerks and state and local election officials from both parties have also warned that some of the bill’s provisions relating to election administration would be too difficult and expensive to implement.

Klobuchar has proposed a manager’s amendment that revises several controversial parts of the House-passed bill. The lengthy proposal contains multiple individual amendments offered by the senator managing debate on the bill. According to a fact sheet provided by Klobuchar’s office to CBS News, these edits reflect “feedback from state and local election officials.”

But congressional Republicans unanimously oppose the bill, arguing that it amounts to a federal takeover of state-run elections.

Klobuchar and Senator Jeff Merkley, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, have altered some of the more controversial provisions. Some changes would focus specifically on concerns from smaller jurisdictions, include limiting early voting requirements for jurisdictions with fewer than 3,000 registered voters that would struggle to hold several consecutive days of early voting, and requiring states to provide three days for voters to correct any errors in mail ballots instead of 10. It would also require states to have automatic voter registration by 2023, but with the option to seek a waiver to extend to 2025.

Other changes include making it optional for jurisdictions to hold early voting on the Monday before Election Day instead of a requirement, tasking the Department of Homeland Security with developing an election mail tracking system instead of putting the burden on state and local officials and moving the deadline for states to upgrade voting systems to 2026, with states allowed to ask for a waiver through 2030.

In a statement on the manager’s amendment, Representative John Sarbanes, the House sponsor of the bill, lauded Klobuchar and Merkley for having “incorporated important input from key stakeholders, including Democratic and Republican state election officials,” as well as “taken time to listen to, and address concerns raised by, their Republican colleagues.”

“Time is of the essence. We must advance this widely supported and transformational democracy reform package,” Sarbanes said.

But despite these changes, the bill is unlikely to garner any Republican support. GOP members of the Rules Committee will most likely attempt to introduce amendments weakening or undermining the bill. Depending on how many amendments are introduced, the markup could last for several hours or even days. Since Republicans are in the minority, however, most if not all of the amendments are expected to fail.

An aide to GOP Senator Roy Blunt, the ranking member of the committee, told CBS News that “Republicans will focus their arguments on the numerous ways in which S.1 will make elections less fair and less secure” and that Blunt “expects a lengthy and robust debate on the bill.”

In a sign of how critical messaging around S.1 is for both parties, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will both appear at the markup, a rarity for committee meetings to consider bills. Both are expected to deliver statements on the measure.

“As the Rules Committee prepares to amend and advance S. 1, 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 in a speech on the Senate floor on Monday.

Schumer has promised to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote if it advances out of committee as expected. But Republicans are expected to filibuster the bill, setting up a challenge for Democrats on how to respond to Republican obstruction of their priorities.

Most legislation requires 60 votes to advance on the Senate floor, but Democrats only hold a 50-seat majority, meaning they would need support from 10 Republicans to pass the For the People Act. Some progressives and outside advocacy groups have pushed for eliminating the filibuster, which would allow for legislation to be approved by a simple majority.

A new poll from Fix Our Senate, a coalition of organizations advocating for the filibuster to be eliminated, found that 50% of voters nationwide support reforming the filibuster once informed that “under the current rules for the Senate, all it takes is a single senator to block the majority from bringing legislation to a vote by creating a filibuster that takes 60 senators to end.”

The poll also found that 46% of voters said they would feel positively if their senator supported filibuster reform, compared to 26% who would feel negatively towards their senator. According to the online poll, which was conducted in April with 1,218 people who voted in 2020, 74% of voters support reintroducing the talking filibuster, which would force senators to stay on the floor continuously to block a bill; this proposal is also supported by 69% of Republicans. 

Another proposed reform is eliminating the filibuster for certain types of bills, like those related to voting rights, which is supported by 62% of all voters. But while eliminating the filibuster outright has support from 58% of voters as a whole, only 35% of Republicans support taking this step.

“The polling affirms that when people learn what’s at stake, they care more about issues like protecting our right to vote than preserving the filibuster – and a lot is at stake right now with Republicans passing egregious voter suppression laws across the country,” Fix Our Senate spokesperson Eli Zupnick said in a statement to CBS News.

However, at least two Senate Democrats have expressed opposition to ending the filibuster, meaning that the rules are unlikely to change any time soon. One of the most vocal opponents of eliminating the filibuster, Senator Joe Manchin, has also expressed skepticism about the For the People Act. In a March statement, Manchin said he believed senators should come together to work on bipartisan voting legislation.

“We can and we must reform our federal elections together — not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans to restore the faith and trust in our democracy,” he said.

Manchin said on April 30 in an interview with WV MetroNews that he would “vote no” on the bill “as it exists today.” On Monday, he told reporters at the Capitol that he had not looked over the changes by Klobuchar, but said he was “open” to hearing more and was “looking at everything.”

Meanwhile, several Republican-controlled states have recently passed or are considering legislation to restrict voting rights, in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s electoral loss and a rise in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Opponents argue such bills disproportionately affect minority and poorer voters, who tend to support the Democratic Party.



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