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GOP arguments against Freedom to Vote Act fall far short

If the Democrats' Freedom to Vote Act is as bad as Republicans claim, why are the GOP's arguments so terribly wrong?

Given the partisan dispute over the Freedom to Vote Act, it's easy to forget that this was supposed to be a compromise plan, designed specifically to generate support from both parties.

As we've discussed, after the demise of the For the People Act, Democrats came up with a compromise package with three parts. The first focused on voter access and election administration, and it included provisions that would create automatic voter registration at a national level, make Election Day a national holiday, and establish floors states could not fall below on early voting, same-day registration, mail voting and drop boxes. This section also set a national standard for voter-ID laws, intended to address Republican demands.

The second part focused on election integrity, and it included provisions to insulate election officials from partisan interference, established cybersecurity standards, and with the 2016 race in mind, created "a reporting requirement for federal campaigns to disclose certain foreign contacts."

The final part focused on civic participation and, among other things, aimed to end partisan gerrymandering for both parties.

After the bill's unveiling, proponents got to work reaching out to Republicans, hoping to get some bipartisan cooperation. Asked in September about his plan to get the bill passed, West Virginia's Joe Manchin — who helped write the bill — replied, "It's to get 10 Republicans."

He got zero Republicans. Senate Minority Leader smacked away the compromise, and in the first floor vote, the bill faced unanimous GOP opposition.

Democrats haven't given up on the legislation, and Republican senators have spent much of this week making their case against it. What's striking is not just the GOP's rejection of a compromise offer, but also how flawed their counter arguments are.

Democrats are trying to address a "hyped" and "manufactured" problem that doesn't exist.

This argument, pushed by Sen. Lindsey Graham among others, is based on the idea that the wave of new GOP voting restrictions didn't actually happen. Reality tells a different story.

The Freedom to Vote Act isn't necessary because the Voting Rights Act still exists.

This is one of McConnell's favorite talking points, and it fails for a reason: As the senator surely knows, in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices gutted the landmark civil rights legislation, clearing the way for far-right voting opponents to target the franchise.

If voter turnout was great in 2020, why bother with new voting protections in 2022?

It was Sen. John Thune who pushed this line yesterday, which is as odd as it seems. Turnout was great in the 2020 cycle, but that was before Republicans in 19 states passed new laws designed to make it harder to vote in future cycles.

The public doesn't see the need for major reforms.

This argument, which runs parallel to Thune's argument, is a favorite of Sen. John Cornyn's. The Texan has celebrated a Pew Research Center poll that found 94 percent of American voters described voting as easy in 2020, which is true but irrelevant: The poll was taken months before Republicans in 19 states passed new laws designed to make it harder to vote in future cycles.

Democrats are pushing a federal takeover of elections.

No, they're not. The Freedom to Vote Act is largely about establishing minimum standards, but how states and localities administer elections would continue to vary, just as they do now. What's more, Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution empowers Congress to regulate federal elections.

Democrats are trying to take away the ability of the voters to vote them out of office.

This, believe it or not, is word for word what Sen. Ted Cruz argued yesterday, while claiming that the Freedom to Vote Act is "Jim Crow 2.0." The claim is utterly bonkers. Setting minimum standards for voting rights will not prevent one party or the other from winning elections.

This effort is "casting doubts on the reliability of American elections."

It was Sen. Mitt Romney who insisted that President Joe Biden, by championing voting rights, is "casting doubt on the reliability of American elections" — which is the "same tragic road" taken by Donald Trump. But that's absurd. Trying to pass legislation to protect voting rights does not undermine public confidence in elections. By Romney's reasoning, Democrats should simply watch Republicans impose voting restrictions without saying anything, because to speak up is to "cast doubts" on the integrity of the system GOP officials have tried to manipulate.

The push for voting rights isn't "unifying."

Romney also raised this concern a couple of days ago, complaining, "So much for unifying the country and working across the aisle."

The trouble is, voting rights used to be a consensus issue — before Republicans decided it wasn't. As E.J. Dionne explained in his new column, "In the coming days, let's not hear talk of Biden and his party trying to "muscle through" democracy bills along partisan lines. As Biden made clear, they have to use their muscle only because Republicans have abandoned what was, for more than four decades, a cross-party commitment to national standards to guarantee the right to vote. Democrats have no choice but to do it alone."