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Monday Jun 07 2021

Biden's election reform bill opposed by key Democrat

President of the United States Joe Biden. Photo: File

A key Democratic senator on Sunday he opposes a sweeping election reform bill urgently sought by Joe Biden as a remedy to what the president calls an "unprecedented assault" on democracy and African Americans' right to vote.

Given overwhelming Republican opposition to the legislation, and Democrats' razor-thin control of the Senate, the support of Senator Joe Manchin was a must for the president's party.

The election package aims to neutralize some 14 laws adopted by Republican-controlled states since January -- amid former president Donald TrumpĀ“s frequent, baseless claims of election fraud -- that ostensibly aim to make the voting process more secure.

But Democrats say the Republican-backed changes will have the clear effect of suppressing votes, especially in heavily Black, Democrat-leaning cities.

To Manchin, a centrist who represents conservative West Virginia, the Biden-backed reforms amount to "partisan voting legislation (that) will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy," he said in an opinion article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

"For that reason," he said, "I will vote against the For the People Act," as the legislation is titled.

At the same time, Manchin reaffirmed his steadfast opposition to eliminating a Senate rule that requires 60 votes in the 100-seat body to pass most legislation.

That "filibuster" rule severely complicates matters as Biden pursues an ambitious agenda aimed at reviving the economy, dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and slowing climate change.

Democrats control only 50 Senate votes and need Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes.

The presidentĀ“s party can, however, resort to a process known as reconciliation which can be used, sparingly, to pass spending-related bills. It requires only a simple majority.

Democrats in the House of Representatives, with a slightly larger majority, passed the election reform bill in March without a single Republican vote.

Among other things, it would protect the right to register to vote even on Election Day, as well as the right to vote early or by mail-in ballot -- methods sharply curbed by the Republican states.

Those methods are credited with boosting the African-American vote -- normally reliably Democratic -- especially in urban areas with insufficient election sites where the wait to vote can last hours.

Biden has said the Republican legislation amounts to "an assault on democracy... often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans."

He promised last week to fight "like heck" for passage of the legislation.