GOP Senators Don’t Want To Acknowledge How States Are Rushing To Clamp Down On Voting

US Republican Senator from Missouri Roy Blunt speaks at a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on December 15, 2020. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / POOL / A... US Republican Senator from Missouri Roy Blunt speaks at a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on December 15, 2020. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / POOL / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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March 24, 2021 4:57 p.m.

It’s not just that Senate Republicans think that S1 — the bill also known as the “For The People Act” — is a poorly designed way to blunt the rush of voter restrictions advancing in state legislatures. As they indicated in a Wednesday hearing on the legislation, they don’t even want to recognize that states are seeking to cut off ballot access at all.

States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), making a rare appearance at a committee hearing, said at the start of the proceedings.

Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge that a historic wave of restrictive bills that is cresting throughout statehouses shows why any federal voting rights legislation — let alone a bill as sweeping as S1 — will face virtually no chance of passing as long as the current filibuster rules remain in place.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and other like-minded Democratic centrists are so far pushing back against calls to dismantle the minority obstruction tool, and it is also not clear whether Manchin himself even supports S1.

There are legitimate criticisms to how some of S1’s provisions are constructed, and on Wednesday Republicans occasionally raised those concerns to bash the bill. But they were just as likely to mischaracterize the current dynamics around ballot access, where President Trump’s lies about mass fraud in the 2020 election have propelled a nationwide push to make voting harder.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee which was hosting the hearing, repeatedly made the claim that legislatures weren’t actually moving forward with the bills deemed to be restrictive.

Blunt said it was a “false narrative” that “states are passing massive legislation that changes the voting structure to people’s disadvantage.”

“There’s always bills filed, almost none of which passed,” Blunt said.

Blunt recognized that Arkansas has toughened up its voter ID requirements. But he did not acknowledge a recent Iowa law that shortened the number of days and hours for in-person voting, made earlier the deadline for mail ballots and restricted local officials’ ability to encourage mail voting use or set up new polling locations. He also ignored the fact that other states are on the cusp of passing laws that will erect new barriers to the ballot box. Montana’s legislature is one step away from ending same day registration. Georgia’s legislature is preparing to ram through a sprawling overhaul of its election rules, with new limits on dropbox use and heightened ID requirements for mail voting among the provisions expected to make it into the final legislation. Florida Gov. Ron DeSentis (R) is also egging on a legislative push to scale back mail voting in the Sunshine State.

Even when Democrats overstated the momentum some state bills have gotten, Republicans were inclined to defend those proposals on the merits. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) falsely said that Georgia had passed a bill ending Sunday voting, which would disproportionately affect Black voters; Republican lawmakers have backed off the proposal in the latest versions of the legislation gaining steam in the statehouse.

But Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) rushed to give her support to the Sunday voting ban nonetheless.

“In God’s work, in Exodus 20:8, it says remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” she said, as she brandished a dollar bill and cited other examples of God being invoked in government oaths and on government buildings.

To defend other state proposals, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita — a witness invited to the hearing by Republicans — said that lawmakers were justified in responding to the belief held by the “American people” that the “last election wasn’t a good one from a process standpoint.”

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) called Rokita out for suggesting that “public concern regarding the integrity election is born of anything but a deliberate and sustained misinformation campaign led by a vain former president unwilling to accept his own defeat.”

“Former President Trump’s own senior officials — Cabinet officials — directly rebutted his meritless claims that there was any level of voter fraud that might have had a substantive impact on the outcome of the election,” Ossoff said. “I find it disturbing that a chief law enforcement officer from one of our great states would indulge in that kind of misinformation and spread those kinds of conspiracies.”

In response, Rokita said that Ossoff was “entitled” to his “misinformed” opinion, but that Rokita’s opinion was shared by “millions of Americans.”

“Whether our elections have been conducted with integrity is a matter of fact,” Ossoff shot back.

Kate Riga contributed reporting to this story.

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