Democrats’ attempt to get states to run their elections more like Maine’s falters in Congress

When Senator Angus King, I-Maine, spoke in the Senate last month after a Democratic-led voting bill failed a procedural vote in the Senate along partisan lines, he did not not restrained his concerns about the future of the American elections.

“There has been a lot of talk in recent months about a possible constitutional crisis in 2022 or 2024,” King said. “Mr. President, we don’t have to wait that long; we are right now in the midst of such a crisis.

The recently failed bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, would have forced states to adopt many electoral practices already followed by Maine, while also requiring some changes in election administration. But the legislation met with fierce partisan backlash in Congress, with all Republicans, including Senator Susan Collins, opposed. A more restricted voting rights bill failed a few weeks later.

It highlights the challenge Democrats faced as they tried to pass federal election legislation, a long-standing ambition of the party that many see more urgent in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when the former president Donald Trump has refused to acknowledge his loss while making allegations of electoral fraud that the courts have systematically rejected.

These allegations, coupled with a wave of new voting practices amid the COVID-19 pandemic, have spawned a slew of new election laws in Republican-controlled states over the past year, some of which restrict the use of the postal ballot or ballot box. on the basis of the prevention of electoral fraud. Democrats have scoffed at these laws as attempts to make voting more difficult under the guise of electoral integrity.

” This is not obvious. They don’t pass laws saying black people can’t vote, or we’re going to have a voting tax, but the net result is probably voter suppression, ”King said in an interview.

While Democrats talk about the need to pass voting rights legislation in apocalyptic terms, they have yet to resort to the procedural change that would allow them to use their weak majorities in Congress to actually pass the legislation. – eliminating the obstruction of the Senate which effectively requires 60 votes to pass a law.

Without this procedural change, Democrats would have to find a compromise with lawmakers like Collins. But she remained firm in her opposition to the proposals, denouncing the legislation as a “federal takeover” of the elections that would force changes in states like Maine, where officials from both sides generally agree that the election administration does not. is not controversial.

“If we’re doing it right and we have one of the highest voter turnouts in the country, then why would we want the federal government to come in and dictate how we run our elections?” Collins said in an interview last month.

Maine’s top election official, Secretary of State Sheenna Bellows, said she does not see the bill as an election takeover, but as setting standards that all states must follow. This is no different, she argued, from previous federal legislation, highlighting a bipartisan bill passed in 2002 that instituted voter identification requirements for voters registering by mail and required states adopt a central voter registration system.

Bellows, a Democrat, has been among the state’s election officials advocating for the free vote law, including testifying before a congressional panel earlier this year about Maine’s experience with the registration of voters on the same day and postal voting without excuse.

“It shouldn’t be easier to vote in Maine than to vote in Mississippi, Texas or Georgia,” she said.

The sweeping bill includes some provisions already in place in Maine, including the requirement that states enact automatic voter registration (which Maine enacted in 2019), same-day voter registration ( that Maine has had since 1973) and online voter registration (which Maine will launch in 2023).

States would also be required to pass a mail or mail ballot without excuse, which Maine already has, and they would be required to accept Election Day stamped ballots that arrive later, which the Maine does not currently allow. The bill would also require cities with more than 3,000 residents to offer at least 10 hours of early voting per day for two weeks before election day, including weekends – hours significantly longer than the average. cities in Maine currently offer.

Collins cited early voting and postal voting changes as issues with the bill in a statement Wednesday, saying the former would weigh cities down while the latter delay the vote count, especially with priority voting.

She feared that the voting rights bill would make it harder for cities to defend themselves in potentially frivolous lawsuits, and that its provisions requiring jurisdictions with significant minority populations to seek federal approval for certain electoral changes. ‘would apply to municipalities in Maine, including Lewiston.

King said in an interview this week that he remains open to negotiating with Republican senators, but said there had been “no counter-offers” since the legislation failed. He also supports filibuster reform to some extent, saying Republicans were using the 60-vote threshold to obstruct rather than allow debate – but such changes would require the vote of every member of the Democratic caucus, and the party majority don’t seem to have that right now.

He argues that a congressional failure to address voting to some extent poses a risk to the country’s democratic institutions, citing the rise of authoritarian rulers in other countries as examples of potential danger.

“Americans tend to think things are as they always will be,” King said,
“and so I try to sound the alarm that what we have is fragile.”

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