Senior Senate Democrats are insisting that universal mail-in ballots and voter drop boxes, measures included in their election overhaul legislation, help to fight racism.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat and chair of the Rules Committee, said the federal voting measure is needed to counter what she called efforts by some states to suppress the vote.
“They’ve rolled back things that they’ve changed during the pandemic, like witnesses for mail-in ballots in South Carolina,” she said. “No matter which way they did it, it all adds up to one thing. And that is voter suppression and limiting people’s freedom to vote.”
She said mail-in balloting “has been a way of life in many states, red, blue, and purple.”
“Mail-in balloting has been the way of voting in the state of Utah. It hasn’t been temporary,” Ms. Klobuchar said. “And one of the things we’ve learned from the pandemic is that it’s actually incredibly helpful in a pandemic, but it’s also made it easier for people to vote.”
She said the federal legislation is needed because “what has gone on in some states is they’ve rolled back the very things that will make it easier to vote, leading to more and more … confusion.”
Utah began mail-in balloting in 2013, but the state did not impose the effort from the legislature, leaving the decision up to each of its 29 counties. By 2018, most of the state’s counties allowed their residents to cast their ballots by mail.
The Democrats’ voting legislation, currently held up by a Republican filibuster, mandates a uniform standard of voting by mail in each state. It also reduces the threshold in certain states so voters who do not meet ID requirements can sign affidavits during federal elections.
Voters also would be allowed to register on the same day they vote, whether during the early voting period or on Election Day. The bill also allows for “ballot harvesting” in states where it is currently illegal.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said voter suppression is aimed at “particularly people of color, urban people, et cetera.”
“Oregon has had mail-in voting for 30 years, long before the pandemic,” Mr. Schumer said. “It also has the highest or second-highest, after Minnesota, percentage of people participating. Isn’t it good to have a high percentage of people participating?”
During the height of the pandemic, 37 states modified their mail-in absentee voting procedures ahead of the 2020 presidential election, often attributing the moves to safety concerns related to COVID-19.
Five states automatically sent absentee mail-in ballot applications to all eligible voters, while 12 states introduced expanded absentee mail-in voting eligibility.
Nine states offered extended absentee/mail-in ballot applications, submission deadlines or other modifications to their absentee/mail-in ballot protocols.
Democrats and their allies have scrutinized Republican-led state legislatures’ passage of laws that included repealing pandemic era-related election regulations, as well as ensuring stricter voter identification requirements.