With debate scheduled for this week on a major election, ethics and voting reform package in the U.S. House, Congressional Democrats have dropped a provision from the bill which would have allowed federal workers to take up to six days of extra paid leave from their jobs in order to train and work at the polls in an election year.
Adding in the latest revisions to the bill - known as the "For the People Act" - the package now weighs in at 622 pages, and has drawn sharp fire from Republicans, especially the provisions dealing with federal workers, including a plan to make Election Day a federal holiday to make it easier for people to vote.
"Their bill would make Election Day a new paid holiday for government workers," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell complained in a floor speech earlier this year. "Just what America needs, another paid holiday and a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work.”
But even with widespread evidence that more poll workers are needed, Democrats last week quietly dropped the section which would have given federal workers up to six days of extra paid time off - if they wanted to use those extra days to train and serve as poll workers.
Like most states - McConnell’s home state of Kentucky struggles to get enough people to staff the polls on Election Day.
"Recruiting poll workers continues to be a challenge for many jurisdictions," the U.S. Election Assistance Commission concluded in 2016, saying that about half of governments surveyed "reported that they had a somewhat difficult or very difficult time recruiting poll workers."
"The poll worker population remains skewed toward older Americans, with 24 percent of poll workers ages 71 and older and another 32 percent ages 61–70," the survey found.
The bill being voted on this week in the House still includes an authorization for grants to states to pay for poll worker recruitment and training.
"The poll worker shortage is not a new phenomenon," a 2013 study by MIT noted in a refrain that's been repeated for many years by local officials about the shortage of poll workers.
The bill would make Election Day a federal holiday for both mid-term Congressional election years, and for Presidential elections - and it urges private businesses to give their workers a day off as well.
Over the opposition of Republicans, the bill would still give 16 and 17 year olds the option of pre-registering to vote when getting a driver's license, so that when they turn 18 years old, they are ready to go the polls.
"This has been used in California with tremendous success," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
Among the many election reforms included in the bill:
+ Require states to allow voter registration by the internet
+ Allow people to update their voter registration information on the internet
+ Make it easier to stay registered and update information as voters move
+ Prohibition on 'voter caging' and other methods to challenge voter eligibility
+ Expansion of early voting
+ A requirement for congressional district lines to be drawn by independent groups, and an express ban on redistricting between census reports
As of Friday, lawmakers had submitted 148 different amendments to the bill, covering everything from possible voting by illegal immigrants, to provisions on checks on foreign money being used in U.S. election activities, details on mail-in ballots, and even lowering the minimum voting age for federal elections to age 16.
The House Rules Committee will meet Tuesday evening to begin sorting through what matters will be approved for a vote on the House floor.
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