Angus King has been in the U.S. Senate since 2013, but says a looming vote on legislation to protect voting rights will be among the most important of his life.
“What we're talking about is the structure of our democracy,” King said Thursday morning in an interview with Spectrum News Maine.
"Sadly, they are taking steps to reel back voting rights and to change who counts the votes and who certifies the votes," King said. "That's really dangerous and the problem is, if we don't combat it, it could just corrode and corrupt the democracy itself. It makes it harder for the voters in the future to fix it. So that's why I think this is so important and why I've taken an outspoken position.
"I think this is a historic moment for this country and we have to do what we have to do in order to protect democracy,” King said.
King, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, spoke just hours before the House of Representatives combined two major voting rights bills — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — and sent a joint measure to the Senate for debate. The elevated stakes of this combined voting rights bill could lead to changes in the filibuster rules on the Senate floor.
“We will be actually having a debate, which is refreshing and we'll be able to discuss the bill and the provisions in it, which I think are basically common sense,” King said.
The Freedom to Vote Act would establish automatic voter registration, universal access to mail-in voting and the establishment of Election Day as a holiday. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would require states with histories of discrimination to get the Justice Department approval before changing voting procedures.
King said that the principals of these two pieces of legislation are generally supported by his constituents because they are already embedded in Maine state law.
“Almost all of the provisions in the Freedom to Vote Act reflect what's already the practice in Maine," King said. "We already have same-day registration, we have drop boxes, we have mail-in voting, we have no excuse absentee voting.”
King added that Maine’s experience with these voting standards puts him “in a pretty strong position” to convince others why these measures are needed and why they work. He said he’s spent the last several days working with top Democrats in an effort to persuade some of the party’s more moderate members to get on board.
“I can look at my colleague and say, ‘What are you afraid of? We have this in Maine, we have virtually no fraud, no record of any voter fraud of any significance.’ So to me, coming from a state that has these rules already, in effect, strengthens my position in the argument,” King said.
Most Republicans argue that the two proposals would amount to a federal election takeover. They also oppose changing the filibuster, the rule that enables the minority party to block most legislation that does not have 60 votes.
Still, King was still optimistic that some conservatives’ minds could be changed in the days ahead.
“Changing, modifying the filibuster rule is difficult and controversial. It's something that we've been working on," King said. "As you know, there are two Democrats (Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin) who are very reluctant about changing the filibuster. I would say that there are also 50 Republicans, any two of whom could change the results.
"So all the attention focuses on the two Democrats, but it should be pointed out that there are 50 Republicans who are absolutely opposing this bill. If they came to the table, and we could negotiate a bill, we wouldn't even have to be talking about the filibuster."
But it is not just Republicans who oppose amending the filibuster. After King spoke to Spectrum News, Sen. Sinema announced that she opposes changing the filibuster – a potentially fatal blow to the Democrats’ efforts to pass voting rights legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said his goal is to pass the legislation by Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
King said the legislation must be passed in order to preserve free and fair elections, particularly ahead of the 2022 midterms.
“I give it 50/50. I think it's it's a very tough issue,” King said.