“We’re working to see what we can do with it, but it will not be a replacement for the federal voting standards. Because some states would just go ‘Well, I don’t want the money,” Klobuchar told Politico. House negotiators are involved in talks too, and she said that they are considering as much as $15 billion to $20 billion on election infrastructure. “It’s really essential that we have a strategy that we can execute,” one Senate Democrat told Politico, on condition of anonymity, rather than “every week we come back and say ‘Have you changed your mind yet, Joe Manchin?'” A potential difficulty , thanks to Manchin and Sinema, has been both of their past statements that $3.5 trillion is too much.
Time is of the essence, because states are going to start getting to work within days on redistricting—redrawing congressional district lines based on the new census numbers, which are expected to be released Aug. 12. The For the People Act includes provisions to prevent partisan gerrymanders, and Manchin has indicated that he wants to keep those provisions. Sinema hasn’t said what she would or would not support.
“There is a deep sense of urgency among many of us in the caucus,” Warnock told The New York Times. “We are witnessing an unabashed assault on voting rights—not just suppression, but an effort to overthrow the results at the local level. And it would be irresponsible for us not to do everything we can to address that.” To that end, Klobuchar, along with Sens. Alex Padilla, Jon Ossoff, and Jeff Merkley, has introduced a new bill to “prevent election subversion and protect election administrators.”
“Across the country, we are seeing election administrators and officials face a barrage of threats and abusive behaviors by those seeking to overturn election results,” said Klobuchar. “We need to respond to these threats head on to protect those who are on the frontlines defending our democracy. This legislation is key to fighting back against attempts to undermine our elections and ensuring our democracy works for every American.” According to Klobuchar’s office, the bill would:
- Expand protections for election administrators by extending existing prohibitions on intimidating or threatening voters to include election officials engaged in the counting of ballots, canvassing, and certifying election results. It is currently a federal crime to interfere with the voting process, and this would make clear that the criminal penalty extends to the counting and certifying process as well.
- Strengthen protections for Federal election records and election infrastructure to stop election officials or others from endangering the preservation and security of cast ballots.
- Provide judicial review for election records by allowing the Justice Department and candidates to bring lawsuits to ensure compliance with election record requirements.
This follows legislation introduced by Ossoff on Wednesday that would making voting in federal elections a statutory right, giving citizens the ability to fight for their vote in court.
None of this is guaranteed to work, and some of it is performative, in answer to increasing pressure from activists. That pressure can’t let up. It needs to come from the top, too. President Biden has the power of the bully pulpit and needs to use it to save democracy. As for his agenda: If Republican voter suppression isn’t stopped in the states before November 2022, he’s not going to have a House or Senate to get the remainder of his first-term agenda done. He’s also not going to get a second term, and without these essential reforms, he could very well be the last Democratic president for generations.