Democrats press for broader voter access as GOP resists

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks at a Senate Rules Committee markup to argue against the "For the People Act," which would expand access to voting and other voting reforms, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. The bill was already passed by Democrats in the House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Republicans in the U.S. Senate mounted an aggressive case against Democrats' sweeping election and voter-access legislation, pushing to roll back proposals for automatic registration, 24-hour ballot drop boxes and other changes in an increasingly charged national debate.

The legislation, a top priority of Democrats in the aftermath of the divisive 2020 election, would bring about the largest overhaul of U.S. voting in a generation, touching nearly every aspect of the electoral process. It would remove hurdles to voting erected in the name of election security and curtail the influence of big money in politics.

At the end of a long, contentious day, the Rules Committee deadlocked 9-9 on Tuesday over advancing the bill to the full Senate in its current form. That leaves it to Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to try to invoke a special process to force the legislation ahead.

Though it is federal legislation, Republicans are fighting a national campaign against it rooted in state battles to restrict new ways of voting that have unfolded during the pandemic. Just Tuesday, the Arizona Legislature sent the governor a bill that would make it easier to purge infrequent voters from a list of those who automatically get mail-in ballots, the latest battleground state to push through changes likely to take months or years to finally settle in court.

GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is so determined to stop the legislation that he made a rare appearance at Tuesday's Rules Committee session in Washington. McConnell and other Republicans on the panel argued for a wave of amendments against key sections of the bill, which Democrats turned aside in an hours-long voting session.

McConnell declared, “Our democracy is not in crisis" and said he wasn’t about to cede control of elections to new laws “under the false pretense of saving it.”

With Democrats holding the White House and narrow control of Congress, they see the legislation as crucial — perhaps their best chance to counter efforts by state-level Republicans who have seized on former President Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election to push ballot restrictions.

Yet even as they tout the measure, Democrats find themselves playing defense, unable to push their legislative response to President Joe Biden’s desk. While the elections overhaul has passed the House, there’s no clear path forward in the Senate, which is split 50-50. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have both said they oppose making changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules, which would be needed to maneuver the bill past unified Republican opposition.