Senate Republicans block Democrats’ election bill

United States (US) Republicans have torpedoed a Democratic bid to implement nationwide election rules, a cherished priority of President Joe Biden’s party.

The huge bill – which sought to make it easier for Americans to vote – ended up deadlocked 50-50 along party lines.

Mr Biden said the issue was the “fight of his presidency”, but some Democrats accuse him of not fighting hard enough.

Advocates say the bill would have been the most far-reaching election measure since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It comes as Republican-led states advance proposals – which Mr Biden has depicted as racially discriminatory – to tighten election laws, and as former President Donald Trump, a Republican, continues to peddle unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

The Democrats’ For the People Act passed the House of Representatives in March in a near party-line vote, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in opposing the bill.

But 60 votes are needed in the 100-member Senate to advance most legislation, and the upper chamber is evenly split 50-50 between the two parties.

Vice-President Kamala Harris, who has been assigned by the White House to push election reform, was presiding over the chamber as the bill failed.

“The fight’s not over,” she said after the vote.

The legislation would have introduced 15 days of early voting, made Election Day a public holiday, and guaranteed automatic voter registration for anyone with a driving licence.

Democrats said the legislation would have also ensured more transparency in campaign contributions and limited partisan influence over the drawing of congressional districts.

The president’s party argued the nearly 900-page proposal was critical to democracy, and would safeguard voting access for black voters.

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There was never much doubt that the comprehensive voting rights bill was dead in the Senate.

A growing number of liberals wanted Joe Biden and his administration to try a little harder to promote the legislation, however.

Even if the president had made a stronger effort to use the “bully pulpit” to tout the benefits of the bill – and Biden did give several speeches on the subject – the chances of shifting any Republican votes was slim.

What the liberals hoped for, however, was that an intensive, ultimately unsuccessful lobbying effort would pave the way for reforming the Senate rules. Then, a simple majority could pass the voting reforms that many Democrats view as essential to blocking Republican state-level efforts to limit voting access.

Whether that was ever a possibility is debatable. But if it becomes received wisdom for those on Mr Biden’s left, it could cause growing dissent in a party that will need unity to accomplish anything substantive in the days ahead.

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