U.S. Senate Democrats aim to expand voting as Republicans seek to rein it in
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. Senate hope on Tuesday to advance sweeping election reform legislation making it easier for Americans to cast ballots, despite intense opposition from Republicans, many of whom support new restrictive voting rules at the state level.
The 886-page bill would expand mail-in voting that was used widely in last year's presidential election because of the coronavirus pandemic and would lengthen the hours of in-person balloting.
The bill faces long odds in the Senate, where 10 Republicans would have to join with Democrats for it to pass.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it would "strengthen our democracy, increase transparency in our campaign finance system and make it easier for all Americans to vote."
Republicans have blasted it as a federal takeover of state elections.
"Democrats’ partisan power-grab 'election reform' bill is not about voting rights. It’s about letting Washington Democrats control the terms of political debate and all 50 states’ election laws," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Twitter on Monday.
A similar bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in March by a vote of 220-210, with no Republican support.
The Democrats' effort comes as Republican former President Donald Trump continues to insist falsely that the 2020 election was stolen from him through massive voter fraud, a claim that has been shot down in multiple courts as well as by state and federal election officials.
Republicans nationwide have taken up his cause. Last week, Florida enacted new limits on voting by mail and using ballot drop boxes. Texas also is in the process of approving new controls.
That follows Georgia's enactment in March of a far-reaching Republican election law bill that includes a prohibition on offering food or water to voters waiting in long lines.
A Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll found in March that 81% of adults said it was "very" or "somewhat" important that the government make it easier for people to vote. But the same poll also showed that 74% found it equally important that new limits on voting be imposed to protect elections from fraud.
Experts say election fraud is extremely rare in the United States.
The House and Senate bills go beyond election reforms by attempting to end the partisan way in which congressional districts are drawn and curbing "dark money" campaign contributions that obscure the identity of donors.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)
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