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Senators in both parties are angling to supplant S.1, a sweeping election reform bill blocked by all 50 Senate Republicans on Tuesday, with more narrow voting rights legislation, but a deep divide between the two parties may render any compromise on the issue untenable.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), in floor speeches announcing votes against S.1, said they approve of certain provisions, with Murkowski citing expansions of voter registration, mail-in ballots and early voting, and Collins pointing to a crackdown on dark money.
Murkowski said she wants to “address” the lack of no-excuse absentee voting in some states, telling Forbes she would be willing to work with Democrats on a standalone bill.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told Forbes he and several Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), are working on a “narrower” bill with three core elements: voting rights, dark money and partisan gerrymandering.
King conceded trying to find an election reform compromise is a “tightrope,” noting it also needs to pass the House and warning some Democrats may withhold their support if the bill becomes too slimmed down.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune signaled GOP support will be the more pressing issue, telling Forbes he hasn’t seen any proposals that don’t “fundamentally change the way states conduct elections,” which he said is a “line in the sand for most of our members.”
Sens. Thom Tillis (R-R-N.C.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), all said they wouldn’t go as far as Murkowski in advocating an expansion of mail-in voting on a federal level, instead expressing support for non-binding federal “standards.”
“I don’t think there’s a voting rights bill that will get Republican votes up to 10… I’d be thrilled to be proven wrong,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told Forbes, pointing to the failure to get 60 votes to overcome Republicans’ filibuster of a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as the source for his skepticism.
Manchin and Murkowski have also urged colleagues to get behind the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which aims to restore the formula used to determine which municipalities must get permission from the federal clearance to pass new election laws. Rounds and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) both told Forbes they are undecided on the bill, but Thune said Republican leadership would likely come out against it.
Election reform may find its way into an infrastructure package. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of the architects of S.1, said in an MSNBC interview Democrats “can include election infrastructure” in a subsequent infrastructure bill if the Senate passes the proposal being floated by a bipartisan group of senators.