WASHINGTON – A hearing on what some consider the most comprehensive election bill since the 1965 Voting Rights Act exploded into tense exchanges between Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar and Republican opponents charging that bill would cause chaos and undermine states’ rights.
The Minnesota Democrat, who believes the bill must pass to block what she called new voter suppression efforts in state legislatures, fired back, pointing to the chaos of hours-long waits at polling places, new limitations on early voting and new restrictions on who can cast mail-in ballots and how.
“The bill simply tries to make it easier to vote,” Klobuchar said.
In an interview, she told the Star Tribune that the legislation was a “landmark” that establishes a “baseline” for voting rights, but that states will still run their own elections.
Sen. Roy Blount of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, became annoyed with Klobuchar when she provided a witness time to answer a question after Blount cut him off because of time limits.
Blount repeatedly made the point that many of the more than 250 state laws proposed to limit voting opportunities will not pass. He cut off Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, which is tracking newly-proposed voting restrictions.
Klobuchar and Blount, who are good friends, sparred verbally before Klobuchar gave Waldman an extra 30 seconds to make a point.
It was hardly the most contentious moment. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas charged that Democrats intended the law to register “millions of illegal aliens” and “criminals” because of its automatic and same-day voter registration requirements.
The level of emotion in the hearing demonstrated the stakes for the electoral process in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that he lost the 2020 election because of widespread voter fraud that he blamed on mail-in voting.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell each spoke passionately. Schumer said Republicans should be ashamed of continuing to “seize”on Trump’s “big lie” about voter fraud to impose voting restrictions not seen since the time of legal racial segregation.
McConnell countered that only two of the proposed restrictions have passed and that states were not “engaging in trying to supress voters.” He called the federal election bill “an implementation nightmare.”
Voter ID requirements, which the bill eliminates, and back-up paper ballots, which the law requires in order to thwart cyber fraud, became points of contention. So did access to absentee ballots.
Among the most controversial issues was a proposed Georgia law that would prohibit Sunday voting. Black churches used Sunday voting to increase turnout in the 2020 election in which Georgia elected two Democratic U.S. Senators, as well as Democratic President Joe Biden.
Schumer views the Georgia proposal as racist voter suppression.
Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi offered a religious explanation for the prohibition, quoting from the Bible: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy.”
The hearing in some ways mirrored the fight over the 1965 Voting Rights Act that established important voting standards for minority groups facing discrimination. Supporters then argued for protections that guaranteed easier access for legal voters to exercise their franchise. Opponents charged the usurpation of states’ rights with a one-size system that did not fit all and that would increase expenses and distrust.
The House passed the voting rights bill over unanimous Republican opposition last month, and its chances of Senate passage could hinge on changing the Senate 60-vote filibuster threshold.
Jim Spencer • 202-662-7432