FOR THE WEEK OF MAR. 08, 2021
Proposed election law changes spur political showdowns in Washington and state capitals
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Four months after the presidential election, ballot access and voting safeguards still are pressing topics in Congress and state legislatures. The U.S. House last week voted 220-210 to pass a sweeping government and elections reform bill. It allows early voting, mail voting, registration on Election Day, increases election security and restores 1965 Voting Rights Act protections that a Supreme Court decision changed in 2013. The "2020 election underscored the need for comprehensive, structural democracy reform," says Sen. John Sarbanes, D-Md., a sponsor of legislation known as the For the People Act. President Biden supports the bill, which now goes to the Senate.
Republican critics say the legislation limits political speech and is a federal power grab by Democrats trying to gain an advantage in elections. For their part, Republican legislators in 43 states have introduced 253 bills to restrict voting. They want to limit early voting and mail ballots, set stricter voter ID rules, restrict citizen-led ballot initiatives and ban private donations that help administer elections. "Many of our citizens have expressed a lack of faith and integrity in our current election systems," says a recent statement from the Georgia Senate Republican caucus.
Democrats describe their rivals' state-level moves as attempts at "voter suppression" and a backlash to historic turnout levels last November, when an unprecedented number of voters cast ballots by mail. "Republicans are doing this because they think they can gain an electoral advantage from making it harder for Black, brown and young voters to participate in the process," says Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic attorney in Washington, D.C., and founder of a voting rights group called Democracy Docket. In the U.S. House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said before last week's passage: "Republican state legislators, concerned about their losses -- either in their own states or in the country -- are again upping their efforts to make it more difficult for people to vote."
President says: "The right to vote is sacred and fundamental — it is the right from which all of our other rights as Americans spring. This landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect that right." – March 4 statement
Republican says: "What we saw this past election was confusion and chaos caused by inconsistent standards and last-minute changes to established election laws by state officials and activist judges. It's now more clear than ever that there is a serious need for major reforms." – U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida
Columnist says:"Lawmakers should be looking for ways to make voting more accessible, not less. Candidates should win votes on the basis of their ideas, not on their party's ability to manipulate the process." -- Adam Van Brimmer, Savannah Morning News editorial page editor
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