WASHINGTON – Election reform may be dead in the Senate over what Democrats consider a minor issue and Republicans call an essential measure to curb ballot fraud.
On Friday, Democrats failed to crush a filibuster aimed at preventing the removal a provision of the election-reform bill that would have required first-time voters who register by mail to verify their identities when they cast their ballots.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said after the vote that the Senate would try to take the bill up again Monday or Tuesday, but that its fate is uncertain.
"We don't want to give it up," he said, adding that "if we fail to acquire the sufficient votes, the 60 votes [to end debate], we will then pronounce, unfortunately, the death of the bill."
Republicans opposed a Democratic plan to strip out a provision requiring first-time voters to either present photo identification or to produce a utility or other type of bill at the polls. Absentee ballot or mail-in voters would have to submit a copy of their proof of identity with their ballots.
The excised verification provision would have required first-time voters to either present photo identification or produce a utility or other type of bill at the polls. Absentee ballot or mail-in voters would have to submit a copy of their proof of identity with their ballots.
Democrats agreed to the provision when a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled the compromise reform package in December, but Democrats now oppose it and say Republicans are willing to make it a deal-breaker.
"I would hate to have Republicans kill this bill over what I consider to be a relatively minor matter," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Thursday.
Republicans disagree and are accusing Democrats of abandoning real reform and breaking a deal in order to appease liberal special-interest groups which oppose stricter registration rules.
"This amendment simply guts the compromise key anti-fraud provision that was carefully negotiated over six months," said Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo. "Unless they are willing to go back to our original compromise, there's no way this bill is going anywhere."
Election-reform efforts picked up steam during and after the 2000 presidential election, which hinged on recounting several hundred disputed ballots in Florida.
Democrats insist that former Vice President Al Gore lost votes because legitimate voters were turned away from the polls due to inaccurate voter rolls.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., offered an amendment removing the provision, and said the bill as written would discriminate against legal voters who lack identification.
"The argument here is do we take people who are elderly, who are new immigrants, who are poor, who are members of minority groups," Schumer said, "and say, 'Yes, we welcome you into the American family. We welcome you into the franchise of voting.'"
Republicans blocked the amendment Friday, arguing that they are more than willing to provide access to the polls to new voters as long as they are legitimate. But they point to examples of rampant fraud, particularly through mail-in registration.
Among those cases is that of Mabel Mackall Briscoe, 82, who signed up her three-year-old Jack Russell Terrier Holly through a mail-in "motor voter" registration.
"Both Mabel and her dog have been voting quite some time," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "There are countless examples of dead people, dogs voting, and people voting multiple times."
"Nearly all these instances of voter fraud have one thing in common," added McConnell. "They were perpetrated by lax mail-in registration requirements."