Following a hectic post-election period and a deadly assault on the US Capitol, Democrats plan to act swiftly on a new congressional bill to strengthen the foundations of American democracy, arguing the need for federal electoral standards and other reforms.
States have long had different and contradictory rules for conducting elections, but the 2020 election, which included changes forced by the pandemic to facilitate voting and then a barrage of lawsuits by then-President Donald Trump and his allies, He highlighted the differences between the states: “Should mail-in ballots arrive by Election Day or should they just be postmarked by then? Is absentee voting allowed for everyone or only for those with an excuse? Can one register to vote the same day or only in advance?RELATED
The Democrats, reaffirming the constitutional authority to set the date, location and manner of federal elections, want national rules that they say will make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the country. The proposal would make it mandatory to accept early voting, same-day registrations and other reforms that Republicans say are federal overreach.
“We have literally seen an attack on our democracy,” said Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, referring to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. “I can’t think of a better time to start a democratic reform.”
Legislation initially introduced two years ago, called the For the People Act, would also give independent commissions the task of drawing congressional districts, require political groups to reveal their large donors, create reporting requirements for advertisements politicians on the internet and would force presidents to disclose their tax returns.
The Republican position was intense during the previous session. At the time, Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it the “Democratic Politicians Protection Act” and said in an editorial that Democrats sought “to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.”
Although Democrats control Congress for the first time in a decade, the initiative’s fate hinges on whether enough Republicans can be persuaded to reconsider a proposal they have repeatedly rejected. If not, Democrats may decide that it is time to take an extraordinary and difficult step: eliminate “filibusterism,” a Senate delay procedure frequently used by the minority party to block majority proposals under rules requiring 60 votes. to pass legislation.
Supporters say the bill is the most significant ballot initiative since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Democratic representatives promised two years ago to prioritize the bill and this month reintroduced it as “HR 1,” underscoring its importance. for the game.
“People just want to be able to cast their vote without it being an ordeal,” said Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, who is the main sponsor of the measure in the lower house. “It’s incredible that in the United States you still have to maneuver around an obstacle course to get to the ballot box.”
With current plans, the House of Representatives would debate the proposal possibly in the first week of February. The Senate Rules Commission would then consider an associated proposal in the upper house and a runoff vote there could allow the initiative to go to the full Senate probably in February, said Klobuchar, who is expected to be the next chair of the committee.
An early vote would be remarkable, considering that the Senate will almost certainly be grappling with Trump’s impeachment, President Joe Biden’s confirmation of nominees to the Cabinet and another round of welfare to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic.
Although states have long had different voting procedures, the November 2020 election showed how variability can be used to cast doubt on the results. Supporters of the proposal, including electoral and civil rights organizations, cited dozens of pre-election demands that questioned rules of procedure, such as whether ballots postmarked on Election Day should be counted.
They also targeted post-election litigation initiated by Trump and his allies to try to nullify millions of legitimate votes. Many of those demands focused on electoral changes that sought to facilitate the voting process. Among those changes is a law passed before the pandemic by the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature to make absentee ballots available to all registered voters who requested them.
Government and election officials have repeatedly described the election as the safest in U.S. history. Even former Attorney General Bill Barr, a Trump ally, said before leaving office that there was no evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome.
“The strategy of lying about electoral fraud, delegitimizing the result and trying to suppress votes has been unmasked as the illegitimate attack on our democracy that it really is and I think that opens more doors to a real conversation about how to fix our voting system and eliminate that cancer, “said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute.
Along with the electoral reform law, the lower house introduced a related proposal two years ago, known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, honoring the congressman and civil rights fighter. Democratic representatives are expected to reintroduce it after it was also stranded in the Senate.
That measure would restore a key clause of the Voting Rights Act that triggered a federal scrutiny of electoral changes in certain states and districts. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling suspended the method used to identify jurisdictions subject to the clause, which has been used to protect voting rights in places with a history of discrimination.
In general, state election officials have been wary of federal election requirements, but those officials in Democratic-run states have been more receptive and want to make sure that Congress provides money to help them improve their systems, something the proposal includes.
“If you keep believing in what we learned in high school classes about government, that democracy works best when the largest number of eligible people participate, those are common sense reforms,” said Alex Padilla, a Democrat who oversaw elections in California before being named to complete Vice President Kamala Harris’ senatorial term.
But Republican officials like Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill continue to object. Merrill said the role of the federal government is limited and states must have the authority to innovate and implement their own voting rules.
“Those decisions are up to the states and I think the states should determine the course of their actions,” Merrill said, adding that Alabama increased voter registration and turnout without implementing early voting.
“To say that everything should be uniform, it’s just not the United States,” he said.
In the Senate, the key question is whether there is enough Republican support for elements of the reform that seek to persuade Democrats to separate parts of the measure into minor legislation. For now, Democrats say they want a vote on the entire package in plenary.
Edward B. Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University, said Democrats should consider more limited reforms that could garner bipartisan support, warning that moving too soon on a broad proposal could alienate Republicans.
“It seems to me that at this moment in American history, which is a precarious moment, the proper instinct would be a kind of bipartisanism to rebuild a common position, rather than ‘we won, you lost,” Foley said.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta.