Congress

Democrats plan new push on election security, voting rights

Democratic leaders are launching a more aggressive push this month that could widen their probe of possible voter suppression into states other than those now under scrutiny, seeking to make it particularly less difficult for minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic, to go to the polls.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings told McClatchy he wants to “make sure we spend significant effort and time, perhaps even looking at even more states and seeing what they’re doing and shining a light on what they may be doing illegally or improperly to stop or hinder people from voting and having those votes counted.”

Cummings was already planning to look at possible voter suppression in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Kansas. The Maryland Democrat did not name additional states.

At the same time, congressional Democrats are stepping up pressure on Republicans to address election security lapses to prevent a repeat of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Russian interference, combined with allegations of voter suppression, erode confidence in the electoral system, Democrats argue, and if both are not addressed, voters could be discouraged from participating in the 2020 election.

“This is my worry, that we have done very little now to correct the threat of Russian interference with our electoral system,” Cummings said, “which means that it might be that the only way this whole situation that we’re in is corrected is through the ballot, with people voting.”

As President Donald Trump repeatedly dismisses any threat from Russia and makes claims about illegal voting by non-citizens without offering evidence, Democratic congressional leaders see expanding voting rights and tightening election security as key to their 2020 election strategy.

(OCTOBER 25, 2018) -- Wichita Eagle reporter Jonathan Shorman shows where Dodge City voters will head on Election Day, and how far it is from town.

Senators from both parties on Monday introduced a bill that would bar a foreign citizen from obtaining a visa to enter the United States if they were found to have improperly interfered in the U.S. elections. Top sponsors are Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.

Republicans who are worried about foreign government interference in U.S. elections have, however, balked at a sweeping House proposal to overhaul the nation’s voting system and say it would make reaching a compromise difficult.

The Democratic strategy has taken several forms in recent days. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered a three-point plan to combat foreign election interference.

The New York Democrat wants a briefing for all senators from intelligence and defense officials on potential threats to the 2020 election, additional sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his associates, and “serious resources” to boost election security.

Schumer Tuesday tore into Senate Majority Leader McConnell of Kentucky for his unwillingness to move forward with bipartisan legislation aimed at strengthening election security or even hold an all senators briefing on the issue.

“The leader sits on his hands, does nothing, creates a legislative graveyard for these and every other issue, and then says ‘Let’s move on.’ No way. No way. We can do both. We can make our elections more secure,” Schumer said.

“Put election security on the floor. Let’s debate it. Put sanctions on Russia on the floor. Let’s debate it.”

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, unveiled a bill last week that would set up a new grant program to enable states to implement paper ballots that could be audited and to enact new cybersecurity standards to protect against hacking.

But Menendez’ bill was introduced after GOP leadership had already put the brakes on a similar election security package crafted by Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and candidate for president.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 4 Republican in the Senate, said of the Lankford-Klobuchar bill which stalled last year in his Rules Committee.

“We don’t need to figure out ways to take over and federalize the election system. That would make the election system weaker not stronger,.” Blunt said in a recent interview.

Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham argue about whether Robert Mueller should testify before the committee about Russian influence in the 2016 election.

But the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report has helped fuel efforts to revive the bill in the Senate — and make election security a campaign issue.

“Special Counsel Mueller’s report found that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion,” Klobuchar noted during Attorney General William Barr’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

Klobuchar asked Barr whether he was aware of the White House’s reported involvement in the effort to torpedo the election security bill, which would require paper ballots, audits and better cooperation between state and federal agencies on election security. Barr said he was not.

Before Special Counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report was made public on April 18, 2019, Attorney General William Barr said, "...The Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump."

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said he was “open to anything that will protect the integrity of the ballot,” but he added that McConnell has concerns about federalizing local elections.

“If you want to make it easier for Putin and his cronies to attack, you centralize it all in one place,” Cornyn said. “And I think that’s a legitimate concern.”

Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign also highlighted GOP leaders’ efforts to stall the bill, which is co-sponsored by the California Democrat.

“For the umpteenth time: @KamalaHarris along with Klobuchar, Lankford and **LINDSEY GRAHAM** have had a bipartisan Secure Elections Act in the Senate for a year and a half -- and Mitch McConnell refuses to bring it to the floor,” Harris’ press secretary Ian Sams said on Twitter.

Lankford disputed last week that the election security legislation is dead, saying, “Not at this point, we’re too early for that.”

He said he hadn’t recently talked to McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, about the legislation, but said “he’s not buried this.”

Lankford acknowledged leadership has “concern” about the legislation, especially if Democrats seek to tie it to the wider voting rights legislation that cleared the House in March.

McClatchy’s Emily Cadei contributed to this report.
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