GRAND FORKS — North Dakota’s GOP U.S. senators joined with their Republican colleagues Tuesday, June 22, to block a Democratic voting access bill. The move will likely surface a renewed debate on Senate rules just as Republicans in state legislatures across the country enact their own voting overhauls.
The For The People Act, advertised by Democrats as a set of much-needed reforms, would expand voting and ballot access — such as vote by mail and early voting — and curb partisan gerrymandering. Portions of the bill also aim to make campaign finance more transparent, as well as register ex-felons to vote.
But Republicans have criticized the bill as an attempt to rewrite election laws in Democrats’ favor. And Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., both joined with colleagues in a 50-50 vote in the chamber on debating the item— failing to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to continue debate.
“This bill takes away state authority and effectively nationalizes our election system. I don’t believe North Dakotans want the federal government to determine how we conduct our elections,” Hoeven said in a statement emailed by his office prior to the vote — adding concerns that the bill would chip away at election security measures such as voter ID laws. “I believe states should run our elections, not be forced to use a one-size-fits-all federal approach.”
Cramer echoed those concerns in his own statement, also sent in the hours prior to Tuesday’s vote.
“This legislation is part of a hypocritical effort by Democrats to fundamentally change our election laws in order to keep their party in power,” Cramer said. “I plan to vote against their partisan proposal and urge my colleagues to do the same.”
The debate over election rules and ballot access is as old as the country itself. But it’s seen special focus in the last eight months, following former President Donald Trump’s insistence that he lost the 2020 election as a result of election fraud — a claim for which no evidence has emerged. And in the last several months, Republican leaders in key states around the country have enacted their own reforms that Democrats fear will make voting more inaccessible and hand greater control of the process to Republican officials.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking moments after the vote, criticized Republican officials’ votes against the bill, and referenced recent voting laws in GOP-led states and Trump’s “big lie” of his election victory.
"In the fight for voting rights, this vote was the starting gun, not the finish line,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. "This concerns the very core of our democracy and what we are about as a democracy … this voter suppression cannot stand, and we are going to work tirelessly to ensure that it does not stand."
The vote is also sure to draw more focus onto the Senate’s filibuster, a procedural rule that requires 60 senators’ consent to advance legislation toward a final vote. Besides a few centrist Democrats’ hesitation to support President Joe Biden’s agenda, those filibuster rules are the central reason Republicans have been able to block key Democratic proposals this year.
One such proposal would have created a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Both Sens. Hoeven and Cramer joined the filibuster that blocked it.
Upper Midwestern senators split Tuesday’s vote along party lines. Besides Hoeven and Cramer, South Dakota GOP Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds voted against further debate for the bill, while Minnesota Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith voted in favor.