Senate Ends GOP Filibuster, Approves Motor Voter Bill
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Giving President Clinton a hard-fought victory, the Senate broke a GOP filibuster Tuesday and voted final approval of a bill making voter registration easier than ever before.
Under the ″motor voter″ bill, passed 62-36 and sent to President Clinton, states would be required to allow individuals the opportunity to register by mail, when they apply for driver’s licenses or public assistance or at military recruitment offices.
″This is a victory for democracy,″ said Becky Cain, president of the League of Women Voters. ″Voter registration will now be easy and available to all.″
An earlier 63-37 vote ending the filibuster occurred after Democratic Leader George Mitchell told the Senate its will had been frustrated for months ″by a dedicated group of obstructionists,″ all of them Republicans.
Six Republicans broke ranks to join Democrats in voting to cut off the filibuster. They included Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., who had been the sole GOP supporter of the bill, and Dave Durenberger of Minnesota, who crafted a compromise designed to prevent voters from being coerced into registering with a particular political party when they applied for welfare or other government benefits.
The others were William Cohen of Maine, Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, James Jeffords of Vermont and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Cohen later voted against the bill on final passage.
Mitchell had asked earlier of the Republicans, ″What are they afraid of? Why are they afraid of the people participating in the democratic process?″
Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas said the bill was improved by Republican amendments in a conference with the House, it is still bad legislation.
And because it contains no money to pay for its provisions it represents ″an unfunded mandate on the already overburdened states,″ Dole said.
″I can’t think of anybody in America who wants this bill,″ he said. ″It doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.″
Dole and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that despite the changes, the bill still could lead to ″fraud and coercion.″
But the floor manager of the legislation, Sen. Wendell Ford, D-Ky., said ″This bill reconnects the American people to their government.″
Durenberger explained that his compromise language deleted a section of the bill that would have required voter registration at unemployment offices and took several steps to see that no coercion was brought to bear against welfare applicants who also seek to register to vote.
″Republicans were trying to eliminate the possibility that people would feel threatened in public assistance offices,″ Durenberger said.
He said he intervened even though he was not a member of the House-Senate conference that approved the compromise ″rather than see motor voter die over this issue.″
″I believe a strong motor voter bill emerged from the Senate,″ Durenberger said. ″I consider that what happened in the Senate was not gridlock but consensus building.″
The last time the Democrats had a successful cloture vote was on March 9 when they prevailed over a Republican attempt to block even initial debate on the motor voter bill.
In the ensuing two months Republicans have used the filibuster to kill the $16 billion spending bill that Clinton said was needed to spur the economy.
″They not only want to oppose a bill but to prevent it from being considered at all,″ Mitchell said.
″We made this bill a better piece of legislation,″ Dole replied. ″If we don’t have an opportunity on both sides of the aisle to improve legislation, then what are we here for?″
But Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., said that for him the problem was ″that the minority feels they ought to be able to determine the agenda.″
″Our complaint is that the majority is being prevented from moving to a vote on important legislation,″ he said. ″A minority is preventing the majority from exercising its will.″