U.S. Senate Democrats introduce sweeping election reform bill facing steep odds

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks at a Senate committee hearing in Washington

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday introduced a sweeping election reform bill, a top priority for the party that cleared the House of Representatives earlier this month but faces steep odds in the upper chamber.

Like the House version, the Senate's For the People Act would update voting procedures and require states to turn over the task of redrawing congressional districts to independent commissions.

Democratic President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill into law if it passes Congress, but it faces Republican opposition in the 50-50 Senate, where most measures need 60 votes to pass.

The stakes are high for congressional Democrats. Following the completion of the census, the decennial population count, states will be tasked with redrawing congressional districting maps that will be used for the next decade.

Historically, both parties have used those maps to amplify the votes of their supporters and diminish those of the other party. Gerrymandering has also been used to dilute the political power of Black voters.

This year, Republicans will have the sole power to draw the lines for 181 congressional seats, compared with 49 for Democrats.

Republicans are also pursuing a slew of laws in 43 states that would place new restrictions on voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, following Republican Donald Trump's repeated false claims that his presidential election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.

"If you don't think that's an issue this year, then you slept through all of last year," Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said at a news conference.

The bill's introduction comes amid a pitched battle over the Senate filibuster, under which the supermajority of 60 votes would be needed to pass the legislation. Activists and some Democrats have pushed to get rid of it, but a handful of Senate Democrats, including moderate Democratic senator Joe Manchin, said they were committed to preserving it.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell promised "a scorched-earth Senate" if Democrats scrapped it.

Senator Raphael Warnock, one of two Georgia Democrats who helped his party win narrow control of the Senate in a pair of January runoff elections, called on the chamber to pass the election reform bill.

"The voices of the American people have been increasingly drowned out and crowded out and squeezed out of their own democracy," Warnock said. "We must pass 'For the People' so that the people might have a voice."

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)