Politics & Government

McConnell says Democrats’ bid to boost voting rights law is a ‘power grab’

The coming midterm elections Nov. 6 will see voters elect a new House of Representatives and cast ballots in 35 U.S. Senate races, as well as for thousands of state and local elected posts.
The coming midterm elections Nov. 6 will see voters elect a new House of Representatives and cast ballots in 35 U.S. Senate races, as well as for thousands of state and local elected posts. AP

The battle over voting rights ahead of the 2020 election is officially on in Congress, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisting Democratic-led efforts to strengthen voting rights laws are no more than a partisan “power grab.”

Democrats are pushing a bill that among other things would repair the landmark voting rights law that the Supreme Court fractured in 2013 and that the previous Republican-controlled Congress appeared in no hurry to fix.

In the Senate, where Republicans still control the agenda, McConnell was adamant Tuesday that no fix is needed.

“The only common motivation running through the whole proposal seems to be this — Democrats searching for ways to give Washington politicians more control over what Americans say about them and how they get people elected,” the Kentucky Republican said in a Senate floor speech.

“It’s an attempt to rewrite the rules...in order to benefit one over the other,” he said.

McConnell spoke as the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the Democratic voting bill, designated HR 1 and called the “For the People Act of 2019.”

Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said the changes are needed after the Supreme Court struck down key provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required some or all of 15 states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination at the polls to get federal approval, or pre-clearance, before changing their rules regarding voting.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia were subject to the pre-clearance provision as well as local jurisdictions in California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.

“Predictably, some states wasted no time in enacting discriminatory voter suppression laws in the wake of the Shelby County decision,” Nadler said at Tuesday’s hearing. “It does not help that President Trump has encouraged conspiracy theories about massive voter fraud as a justification for voter identification laws, and other voter suppression tactics.”

Trump claimed that Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election by 3 million votes because of massive voter fraud. He formed a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in 2017 and appointed a then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach its vice chairman, but the panel was later disbanded.

The 2018 elections were punctuated by allegations of voter suppression and election fraud. In Georgia, Democrats and voting rights advocates complained that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp aided his campaign by cutting hundreds of thousands of mostly-minority voters from the rolls as he oversaw elections as secretary of state.

Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis discusses race relations and voting rights with reporter Sheryl Stolberg ahead of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Voters in the North Carolina’s 9th Congressional still do not have House representation because the election hasn’t been certified amid allegations of election fraud by Republican Mark Harris’ campaign.

The voting rights battle continues ahead of the 2020 elections in states such as Texas, where state election officials are preparing to identify and purge nearly 100,000 people registered to vote who may not be U.S. citizens.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, who has been designated chairwoman of a new House subcommittee on elections, plans to hold field hearings in states to build a “record” of elections violations necessary to update the pre-clearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act.

She told McClatchy in December that those states include North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Ohio and North Dakota.

“Voting and the ability to participate in our democracy issue, a racial justice issue, a civil rights issue, and we are overdue for change,” Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told the judiciary committee.

McConnell seized on the North Carolina election situation to show what he called deficiencies in the Democratic bill.

“It is suspiciously silent on the murky ballot harvesting practices that recently threw North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District into total chaos,” he said. “Pages and pages rewriting election law but nothing on this actual problem?”

The Supreme Court, in its 5-4 ruling in 2013, said that part of the Voting Rights Act must be updated to account for how times have changed since Congress first wrote the legislation. The justices urged lawmakers to revisit the law.

Efforts to do so went nowhere in a Republican-controlled Congress. Former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, declined to move a bipartisan bill that was crafted to to address the court’s concern.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, the House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, said Tuesday that the new Democratic bill would “federalize elections in ways that have nothing to do with outlawing discrimination.”

Collins charged the bill “actually disenfranchises state voters” and “siphons power from state legislatures, local elected officials and voters and cedes powers to Washington lawmakers, unelected judges, and lawyers.”

Chris Adams, president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit organization that focuses on election laws, said some of the Democratic bill’s provisions aren’t necessary. He said voting in America has never been easier.

“In fact, it is difficult to avoid opportunities to register and vote,” Adams told the committee. “Americans are offered registration in social service agencies, post offices, county courthouses, outside of grocery stores….in jails, online, in high schools, in church...at Lollapalooza….even in drug treatment facilities.

William Douglas covers Congress and politics regionally for McClatchy. A University of South Carolina alum, he’s also covered the White House and State Department in his stint in Washington. He’s co-host of McClatchy’s Majority Minority podcast.
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