March vote set for HR 1 as both parties harden democracy reform postures
Democrats will push HR 1, a package embodying almost all their democracy reform aspirations, through the House in two weeks.
The announcement signals party leadership's confidence in passage of the legislation — which aims to substantially ease access to the ballot box, curb the role of money in politics, end partisan gerrymandering and tighten government ethics — even though the Democratic majority has just three seats to spare. Republicans seem certain to oppose it unanimously and on Wednesday launched two nationwide efforts to make voting more difficult in 2022.
As a result, unless the filibuster is neutralized, the package stands no chance in the 50-50 Senate. That's one reason why 20 Democratic senators on Wednesday pressed President Biden to act on his own authority to achieve several of the measure's most immediate goals.
The flurry of developments underscore how, despite all the stress points applied to the democratic system by a pandemic and a president last year, there is hardly a sliver of bipartisan consensus on how to make the republic work better.
When GOP lawmakers complain they were not invited to help write HR 1, either this time or when a very similar version passed the House along party lines two years ago, Democrats assert that such a gesture would be pointless because no amount of compromise would win the other side over.
Instead, when the bill comes to the floor the week of March 1, the majority will count on advancing it with minimal defections — a strategy bolstered with a recent advertising campaign to maintain support from Democrats who just survived close re-election calls in red or purple districts.
The bill seeks to nationalize many of the diverse policies that made conducting the 2020 election during the Covid-19 outbreak so potentially confusing and chaotic — but which nonetheless resulted in record turnout, after two-thirds of the states made voting easier, either voluntarily or in response to litigation.
It would require all states to provide online, automatic and same-day voter registration and allow in-person voting at least 15 days before Election Day, for example, and it would mandate that states also permit no-excuse absentee voting supported by postage-paid envelopes or plentiful drop boxes.
The measure would also make the other 42 states join, a decade from now, the eight where the redrawing of congressional districts for the 2020s has already been put in the hands of independent commissions. It would institute new safeguards against foreign interference in elections, including tighter rules against campaign money from abroad, and require increased disclosure of unlimited "dark money" political spending. It would establish a system of public financing for congressional elections. And it would tighten government ethics rules in an array of ways.
The GOP has been opposing almost all these ideas since before the pandemic, and before Donald Trump's campaign of lies about voter fraud, elevated the mechanics of election administration to new prominence.
The party doubled down with two new efforts announced Wednesday, on top of Republican legislators' efforts in the capitals of all the battleground states to reverse many of last year's voting easements — particularly those that expanded voting by mail.
The Republican National Committee said it was creating a new Committee on Election Integrity that will advocate for "transparency" in voting processes. A similar panel was created by a separate GOP campaign organization that helps fund state legislative races.
In the view of both groups, that means stricter in-person and absentee voter ID laws, fewer drop boxes, tougher voter registration rules, stricter maintenance of the voter rolls, liberalized permission for partisan poll watchers and hasher treatment of ballots mailed on time but arriving late.
The national party spent $30 million pressing lawsuits before and after the 2020 election, as Trump claimed he'd been robbed of re-election by fraudsters. No court saw evidence to back him up, but his persistent falsehoods prompted his allies to launch the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
"What we saw this past election — states undoing important safeguards, bypassing the proper legislative processes, and changing election laws in the eleventh hour — was deeply troubling and brought chaos and uncertainty to our sacred democratic processes," said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
The other panel, to be run by prominent GOP legislators and secretaries of state, said its goal is "to restore the American people's confidence in the integrity of their free and fair elections" by "making it easier to vote and harder to cheat."
Democrats, to be sure, see the Republicans' goals differently — to suppress turnout in the midterm election and beyond.
Hoping to combat that effort even if HR 1 stalls a second time, the 20 Democratic senators asked Biden to issue a dozen executive orders to make voting easier and campaign finance abuses rarer.
"In some ways, the 2020 election showed the resiliency of our democracy," read their letter, coordinated by Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. "Still, we saw widespread voter suppression strategies, especially targeting communities of color, and record levels of dark money spent to unduly influence voters."
The senators asked the president to order:
- Expanded use of the Voting Rights Act to curtail voter suppression by states and cities.
- More aggressive prosecution of election and money-in-politics offenses by the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission.
- Streamlined rules to help the disabled and people in jail get and use ballots.
- Increased pressure on states to enhance their voter registration efforts.
- Stiffened sanctions on foreigners who interfere in elections.
- A revival of campaign finance disclosure requirements for politically active nonprofits.
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