One of the arguments in the Senate against Democrats’ push for new federal standards for voting access is that because their bill has no Republican support, voters can’t trust it.
“It’s a recipe for undermining confidence in our elections, remaking our entire system of government to suit the preferences of one far end of the political spectrum,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.
“Don’t be fooled, this bill is nothing more than a blind, partisan power grab,” added Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).
Republicans aren’t the only ones insisting that federal voting laws need to have bipartisan support. Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the sole Democrat who has refused to support the For the People Act, the Democratic package of sweeping voting and ethics reforms, has also argued that federal voting laws shouldn’t be passed strictly on a partisan basis.
But there are plenty of partisan election laws happening in the states.
Republicans in Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Montana and Florida have enacted new restrictions on voting without any support from Democrats but with ex-President Donald Trump cheering them on.
In other words, a partisan election law would destroy confidence in elections, according to Republicans, but it’s OK for Republicans to write partisan election laws in state legislatures, even if they’re inspired by Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
The Senate is set to vote on the For the People Act on Tuesday, and it will likely fall far short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Democrats control just 50 Senate seats. The bill would prohibit most changes Republican statehouses are seeking; it would also reform federal campaign finance and lobbyist disclosure rules.
“A partisan election law would destroy confidence in elections, according to Republicans, but it’s OK for Republicans to write partisan election laws in state legislatures.”
In interviews, Senate Republicans’ top argument against the For the People Act is that it’s too much of an intrusion into the way states handle elections. Among other things, the bill’s voting rights provisions would require states to register voters automatically, to allow everyone to vote by mail if they want, and to allow voters who lack identification to vote if they complete a sworn written statement attesting to their identity.
“I don’t think a national takeover of elections would be a good thing for America in any way shape or form,” said Rep. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the biggest GOP critics of Trump and his attempts to destabilize democracy by peddling the big lie of a stolen 2020 election, said he was happy to discuss bipartisan changes to federal voting laws. But Romney seemed disinterested in weighing in on partisan voting measures being passed by GOP state legislatures.
“I’m a federal senator. I’m not going to tell a state what they should do,” Romney told HuffPost.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), another GOP senator who is sympathetic to the argument that more needs to be done to protect voting rights, also side-stepped a question about partisan voting changes at the state level.
“I am not going to detail state-by-state where they may have overstepped or not have overstepped or actually improved in terms of access to voting rights. Obviously, that’s something that’s been covered by the media,” Murkowski said.
Republicans did support federal voting laws in the past, however. For decades, bipartisan majorities reauthorized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its landmark civil rights protections against denying people the right to vote based on their race or ethnicity. But Republicans now oppose restoring sections of the VRA struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 that required states to clear changes to their voting laws with the federal government.
“Some of my Republican friends here in Washington have resorted to the old refrain that election laws are best left to the states, ignoring the fact that for generations, we in Congress have passed federal election laws and constitutional amendments to prevent exactly this kind of discrimination and voter suppression,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said some states are merely tightening up election laws after having loosened them to make it safer to vote during the coronavirus pandemic last year.
“Now that COVID is over and we want to get back to a more appropriate scrutiny and security of elections, I don’t think any of it’s very dramatic,” Cramer said. (The coronavirus pandemic is definitely not over.)
“What Republicans are doing in most of the states seems to be entirely appropriate,” he added, “and if anything, has actually made voting easier for more people, while at the same time providing security.”
Fourteen states have enacted 22 new laws that restrict voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which opposes the changes. Some of the new laws restrict the use of mail-in ballots, impose stricter voter ID requirements and reduce the number of polling places.
“SB 202 in Georgia served two very narrow purposes for the state’s Republican Party,” Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) told HuffPost. “The first was to gain a partisan edge by making voting by mail more difficult by reducing the early voting period in runoff elections, and the other is to pander to a narrow set of hardcore activists who basically bought the B.S. Trump was selling after November.”