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Dems Eye New Voting Bill Strategy      01/21 06:15

   Democrats were picking up the pieces Thursday following the collapse of 
their top-priority voting rights legislation, with some shifting their focus to 
a narrower bipartisan effort to repair laws Donald Trump exploited in his bid 
to overturn the 2020 election.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats were picking up the pieces Thursday following 
the collapse of their top-priority voting rights legislation, with some 
shifting their focus to a narrower bipartisan effort to repair laws Donald 
Trump exploited in his bid to overturn the 2020 election.

   Though their bid to dramatically rewrite U.S. election law failed during a 
high-stakes Senate floor showdown late Wednesday, Democrats insisted their 
brinksmanship has made the new effort possible, forcing Republicans to relent, 
even if just a little, and engage in bipartisan negotiations.

   The nascent push is focused on the Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law that 
created the convoluted proces s for the certification of presidential election 
results by Congress. For more than 100 years, vulnerabilities in the law were 
an afterthought, until Trump's unrelenting, false claims that voter fraud cost 
him the 2020 election culminated in a mob of his supporters storming the 
Capitol.

   An overhaul of the Gilded Age statute could be Democrats' best chance to 
address what they call an existential threat to American democracy from Trump's 
"big lie" about a stolen election. But with serious talks only beginning in the 
Senate and dwindling time before this year's midterm elections, reaching 
consensus could prove difficult.

   "We know history is on the side of voting rights, and we know that forcing 
leaders to take stands will ultimately move the ball forward," Senate Majority 
Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday.

   Just weeks ago, many Democrats were adamant that updating the Electoral 
Count Act was no substitute for their voting legislation. Updating the 1887 
law, they pointed out, would do nothing to counter the Trump-inspired push in 
19 states to make it more difficult to vote.

   They still hold that position, but after the defeat of their marquee 
elections bill, they are running out of options. Meanwhile, Trump loyalists are 
girding for the next election, working to install sympathetic leaders in local 
election posts and, in some cases, backing political candidates who 
participated in the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

   Biden conceded this week that updating the electoral bill may be Democrats' 
best opportunity to pass voting legislation through a 50-50 Senate, where much 
of his agenda has stalled.

   "I predict to you they'll get something done," Biden told reporters 
Wednesday.

   Any legislation would have to balance Democrats' desire to halt what they 
view as a GOP plan to make it more difficult for Black Americans and other 
minorities to vote with Republican's entrenched opposition to increased federal 
oversight of local elections.

   "What other things could be put in there?" said South Carolina Rep. Jim 
Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat and a senior member of the Congressional 
Black Caucus. "I want to deal with more than just counting the votes for the 
president. I want to be sure that we count the votes for everybody else. So 
voter nullification like they're doing in Georgia, I think it can be addressed."

   Republicans involved in the effort to update the Electoral Count Act 
acknowledge that the bill would need a wider focus.

   Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is holding bipartisan talks with Republican 
Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mitt 
Romney of Utah, as well as Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, 
Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

   "It's such a needed thing," said Manchin, who added that the narrower scope 
was "the first place" Democrats "should have started."

   Manchin and Sinema effectively tanked Democrats' marquee bill Wednesday, 
joining Republicans in voting against a rule change that would have allowed the 
party's voting legislation to pass with a simple majority.

   Collins has proposed new protections for poll and elections workers, some of 
whom received chilling threats to their safety after the 2020 election. She has 
also called for more funding for local elections. Manchin wants harsh criminal 
penalties for those convicted of intimidating or threatening poll and election 
workers.

   "It's a heavy lift, but if we continue to get people to talk there's a 
path," said Tillis, who said tensions over the Democrats' failed voting bill 
will need to cool before coalition building can seriously begin. "We are going 
to have to have more Republicans get on board because there are going to be 
protest votes."

   But at its core, many Republicans want any legislation to primarily focus on 
the Electoral Count Act.

   "This is directly related to Jan. 6," Senate Minority Leader Mitch 
McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday. "It needs fixing."

   House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday called it "an old piece 
of law, so you can always modernize it."

   The bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is also 
working on a proposal.

   As Trump's legal appeals and efforts to pressure state and local officials 
ran out of steam, he began to focus on Mike Pence, who presided over the 
certification in Congress of the Electoral College results. Trump spent days in 
a futile bid trying to convince Pence that the vice president had the power to 
reject electors from battleground states that voted for Biden, even though the 
Constitution makes clear the vice president's role in the joint session is 
largely ceremonial.

   Separately, he encouraged Republican lawmakers to take advantage of the low 
threshold to lodge objections to the outcome. Even after rioters fought in 
brutal hand-to-hand combat with police as they lay siege to the Capital on Jan. 
6, 147 Republican lawmakers later voted to object to Biden's win.

   Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, is working 
on a bill that would shore up several key vulnerabilities in the Electoral 
College process.

   Any legislation should make clear the vice president holds only a ceremonial 
role, limit the scope of Congress' involvement in the certification of the 
election and narrow the grounds for raising an objection to a state's results, 
according to a summary provided by his office.

   Civil rights activists don't object to the revisions. But they question the 
value of the effort if Republican-controlled states can still enact voting 
restrictions.

   "It doesn't matter if your votes are properly counted if you cannot cast 
your vote in the first place," said Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who is also 
pastor at the church Martin Luther King Jr. once led.

 
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