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By Alana Wise and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senator Ted Cruz, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2016, said on Tuesday that he introduced legislation to give governors the ability to opt out of refugee resettlement programs.

Cruz said that if President Barack Obama wanted to send refugees to any state, his legislation would let its governor refuse to participate, “to conclude that the federal government has not done a sufficient job ensuring that the safety and security of the citizens of the state will be protected.”

The comments came at a news conference with Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Cruz’s home state of Texas. Abbott was one of the first U.S. governors to seek to block the resettlement of refugees from Syria.

Many Americans have worried that those refugees might include militants allied to the Islamic State. Such fears have intensified since the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris and last week’s killings in San Bernardino, California.

“We are at a time of war,” Cruz said.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation after the Paris attacks that would make it more difficult for refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq to enter the country. That measure has not yet come up in the Senate, although some lawmakers want it included in a massive spending bill Congress must pass in the next few days to keep the government open.

Congress’ Republican leaders have not yet disclosed their plans for the legislation.

Obama, a Democrat, plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year, a decision many Republicans have opposed since it was announced in September.

Three Senate Democrats held a news conference on Tuesday with religious leaders who oppose including the House refugee measure in the spending bill.

“These refugees are not our enemies,” Senator Tim Kaine said. “They are fleeing our enemies.”

Cruz said he had also authored legislation to impose a three-year moratorium on refugees coming from countries where Islamic State or al Qaeda controlled significant territory, and another measure that would strip U.S. citizenship from any American who traveled abroad to fight with militant groups.

Cruz also commended businessman Donald Trump, who is vying with him for the Republican nomination for president, for “standing up and focusing America’s attention on the need to secure our borders.”

Trump has proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States.

(Reporting by Alana Wise and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a 2nd Amendment Coalition announcement at CrossRoads Shooting Sports in Johnston, Iowa, December 4, 2015. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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