House Democrats passed sweeping voting legislation over unanimous Republican opposition, advancing to the Senate what would be the largest overhaul of U.S. election law in a generation.
House Resolution 1, which touches on virtually every aspect of the electoral process, was approved Wednesday night on a near party-line 220-210 vote.
It would outlaw partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, require automatic voter registration nationwide and force states to provide early and no-excuse absentee voting.
The bill is a counter to voting integrity measures advancing in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country in the wake of the 2020 election.
Yet it faces an uncertain fate in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it has little chance of passing without changes to procedural rules that currently allow Republicans to block it.
H.R. 1 was the first piece of legislation Democrats passed after retaking the House in 2018, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“We need to do what we can to establish baseline standards and best practices that allow people to register to vote in America without it being an obstacle course for them,” Maryland Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, the bill’s lead sponsor, said.
“All of these things are designed to restore people’s faith in democracy at a time when we can see with our own eyes that things are pretty shaky.”
President Joe Biden announced his support for the bill on Thursday morning.
“I look forward to working with Congress to refine and advance this important bill,” he said. “And I look forward to signing it into law … so that together we can strengthen and restore American democracy for the next election and all those to come.”
To Republicans, however, H.R. 1 would give license to federal interference in states’ authority to conduct their own elections — ultimately benefiting Democrats.
“Democrats want to use their razor-thin majority not to pass bills to earn voters’ trust, but to ensure they don’t lose more seats in the next election,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said from the House floor on Tuesday.
McCarthy said Wednesday that Democrats engineered the bill to “put a thumb on the scale of every election in America,” and former Vice President Mike Pence said in an Op-Ed that it would “forever dilute the votes of legally qualified eligible voters” and “further erode confidence in our elections.”
In Iowa, the legislature has voted to cut absentee and in-person early voting. In Georgia, the House on Monday voted for legislation requiring identification to vote by mail.
And on Tuesday, the Supreme Court appeared ready to uphold a ban on ballot harvesting in Arizona, which could make it harder to challenge state election laws in the future.
Conservatives, meanwhile, are mobilizing a $5 million campaign to urge moderate Senate Democrats to oppose rule changes needed to pass the measure.
“H.R. 1 is not about making elections better,” Ken Cuccinelli, a former Trump administration official who is leading the effort, said. “It’s about the opposite. It’s intended to dirty up elections.”
So what’s actually in the bill?
H.R. 1 would require states to automatically register eligible voters, as well as offer same-day registration. It would limit states’ ability to purge registered voters from their rolls and restore former felons’ voting rights.
Among dozens of other provisions, it would also require states to offer 15 days of early voting and allow no-excuse absentee balloting.
On the cusp of the once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressional district boundaries, typically a fiercely partisan affair, the bill would mandate that nonpartisan commissions handle the process instead of state legislatures.
Many Republican opponents in Congress have focused on the creation of a public financing system for congressional campaigns that would be funded through fines and settlement proceeds raised from corporate bad actors.
The bill would also force the disclosure of donors to “dark money” political groups, which are a magnet for wealthy interests looking to influence the political process while remaining anonymous.
The biggest obstacles for H.R. 1 lie ahead in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.
Some legislation takes only 51 votes to pass, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. On a deeply divisive bill like this one, Democrats would need 60 votes under the Senate’s rules to overcome a Republican filibuster — a tally they are unlikely to reach.
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