US Democrats face crucial test on voting reform

As Republicans seek to impose stricter voting rules across the US, Democrats say voting rights are being infringed upon.

The US Capitol in Washington, DC.
Republicans in US Congress are blocking national voting reforms proposed by Democrats as state legislatures, prompted by former President Donald Trump's claims of fraud, enact new voting restrictions [J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

Democrats in the United States Congress plan to push voting rights legislation to a crucial test vote in the Senate this week laying bare a clash with Republicans who are blocking reforms at the national level and enacting new voting restrictions in key states.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intends to bring a crucial government ethics reform and voting rights bill to the Senate floor for debate, but its prospects of passage are infinitesimal.

With the Senate evenly divided between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, Schumer needs unity from his own party and at least 10 Republicans to cross the aisle and vote with him. Republicans have made it clear they are deeply opposed to the Democrats’ efforts, and even the White House seems to be bracing for failure.

“This is not the end of our effort this is in some ways the beginning, and there is going to be more work done by the president, by the vice president, by the administration to expand voting rights,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.

‘For the People Act’

Titled the For the People Act, the federal legislation would require all US states to implement automatic voter registration, offer voting by mail, and deploy new voting machines.

Not only are Republicans opposed to the measure, but they have also rejected a compromise proposal crafted by centrist Democrat Senator Joe Manchin.

“I’ve been working across the aisle with all the Republicans trying to get people to understand that that’s the bedrock of our democracy – accessible, fair and basically secure voting,” Manchin told reporters at the US Capitol last week.

But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Manchin’s attempted compromise “unacceptable”, “totally inappropriate”, and said “all Republicans would oppose that, if that were to surface on the floor” of the Senate.

Former President Donald Trump at a North Carolina Republican gathering on June 5 renewed his claims that Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent [Chris Seward/AP Photo]

Republicans claim the federal voting rights bill would make it easier to vote illegally and Republican legislators in a number of states have passed a wave of new voting restrictions following the 2020 election which saw record turnout.

Former President Donald Trump continues to claim the 2020 election was stolen even though courts have rejected his claims of fraud in key states for lack of evidence.

In Texas on June 20, Democrats rallied at the state capitol in Austin to protest against a Republican drive to enact new legislation that would curtail voting access in the state.

Leading Democrats in Texas have called on Republicans to protect and expand voting rights rather than constrain them.

“They’re trying to rig the system to stay in office as long as they can, try to suppress the vote to make it harder — especially for Black and brown communities to vote in Texas — and we’re not going to let them,” former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who is also a former mayor of San Antonio, said of Republicans, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.

At the end of May, a dramatic walkout by the Democratic legislators in Austin prevented Texas Republicans from enacting legislation that would prevent cities like Houston from using 24-hour polling sites and drive-through voting – steps that expanded voter access during the 2020 election.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has promised to bring the legislation back in a special session in September.

In the state of Georgia, which voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election and elected two Democrats to the US Senate, election officials are preparing to purge 100,000 people from Georgia’s registered voters’ list.

“Making sure Georgia’s voter rolls are up to date is key to ensuring the integrity of our elections,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said in a statement on Friday.

The mass purge of voters targets voters under Georgia’s “use it or lose it” law who did not participate in several elections or who may have moved out of state. Voters whose names are removed can re-register if they are eligible.

The removals amount to 1.3 percent of the state’s 7.8 million registered voters, fewer than the 500,000 that were removed by the state in 2017 and 300,000 in 2019.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislation enacted voting restrictions on March 18, prompting a backlash from leading Democrats and voting rights advocates who have sued in federal court to strike down the law.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, the US’s top law enforcement official, announced on June 11 the Justice Department will review and challenge Georgia’s new law and others being proposed and passed by Republicans if they restrict voting rights.

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights flow,” Garland said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies