While congressional Republicans remain overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, opposed to the For the People Act, a new survey found strong bipartisan backing for the wide-ranging bill that would set new standards for elections.
The survey — conducted by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank and polling firm, for Vox — found that 69 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat support the bill when told it would "make it easier to vote, limit the influence of money in politics, and require congressional districts to be drawn by a non-partisan commission so that no one party has an advantage." That breaks down as 85 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans. (Note that voter ID and so-called ballot harvesting, among the most partisan elements of election administration, were not mentioned.)
No Republican voted in favor of the bill, also known as HR 1, when Democrats pushed it through the House of Representatives, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans have vowed to block its passage in the Senate. Republicans say the legislation would damage election security while Democrats claim it would make elections more fair.
Pollsters broke the bill down into a handful of its major components to gauge support for individual provisions, some of which were heavily backed by all three political groupings. For example, limiting the influence of money in politics was supported by 86 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of independents and 80 percent of Republicans. Modernizing election infrastructure to increase security had similar numbers (90/83/77), as did preventing foreign interference in elections (85/82/82).
Support for a 15-day early voting period and nonpartisan redistricting commissions both received more than 50 percent support across all three categories as well.
A handful of other proposals did not crack 50 percent among Republicans.
- Automatic voter registration: 81 percent Democrats, 59 percent independents, 44 percent Republicans.
- Same-day voter registration for eligible voters: 84/49/49.
- A vote-by-mail option for all voters: 84/64/38.
- Restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences: 72/54/39.
- Limiting voter roll purges: 73/51/48.
Again, voter ID and collecting ballots on behalf of voters were not among the topics queried.
The pollsters also asked respondents about replacing the current system of drawing congressional districts with a proportional representation system in which each state's U.S. House delegation would be based on the statewide vote share. Just over half of all respondents said they would support such a system, including 63 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of independents and 41 percent of Republicans.
But when more context was added to the question, opinions shifted.
In one version, respondents were told: "Some lawmakers in Congress are considering changing Senate procedure to allow for this proposal to pass with 51 votes, rather than 60 votes, meaning Democrats could pass the bill without support from Republicans." Asked how they felt about changing Senate procedures to pass the bill, overall support dropped 4 points to 47 percent. Democratic support rose, while backing among Republicans and independents dropped significantly.
In another question about the proportional representation plan, questioners said, "Supporters of this say we should create these standards so that everyone's vote can count equally and no one party has an advantage over the other in drawing district lines, making our elections fairer. Opponents of this say that it is a power grab by politicians who want to pick their voters rather than the other way around."
When faced with this language, 70 percent of Democrats voiced support, as did 50 percent of independents. But only a third of Republicans backed the proposal.
The survey was conducted April 16-19 of 1,138 likely voters with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. See the full results here.
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Hawaii is poised to become the latest state to adopt automatic voter registration.
The Senate unanimously approved the measure on Tuesday after the House passed it earlier this month, with only one lawmaker voting "no." The bill now goes to Gov. David Ige's desk, and he is expected to sign it.
With Democrats forming an executive and legislative trifecta, Hawaii is following the nationwide trend in which Democrats are largely advocating for voting easements, while Republicans are trying to roll back access to the ballot box.
When the legislation receives final approval from Ige and automatic voter registration goes into effect July 1, Hawaii will join 18 other states, plus Washington, D.C., that already have systems to automatically register eligible citizens when they apply for a driver's license or state identification card. Two more states, Maine and New York, are in the process of implementing such a system in the near future.
Hawaii's bill also ensures that people already registered to vote can have their names and addresses automatically updated when changes are needed, unless a person declines.
Supporters of automatic voter registration say the system provides more convenience to voters, is cost-effective for states and keeps the voter rolls up-to-date. Those opposed expressed concerns over privacy and a lack of a citizenship requirement in the bill.
Voter registration information will only be shared with Hawaii's local election officials and the Department of Transportation.
So far this year, 20 more states are considering bills to adopt automatic voter registration, according to the Voting Rights Lab. And five states that currently have this type of registration system are considering bills to eliminate it.
Meanwhile, Montana recently ended its long-standing practice of same-day voter registration, which is often discussed alongside automatic voter registration. Same-day registration allows potential voters to register and then cast a ballot on Election Day.
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McDonald is an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida and runs the U.S. Elections Project, which maintained a comprehensive database on 2020 voting methods and turnout in every state.
As the coronavirus pandemic raged across the country last year, several states worked diligently to make it easier for voters to cast mail ballots and to provide more access for in-person voters. And after the dust of the general election settled, we began to see major success stories — including the highest voter turnout rate for a general election in a century, with turnout increases in every state.
Now is not the time to pump the brakes on democracy.
Despite the success of last year's election — a monumental feat coordinated by election officials across the country — politicians in 30 states are pushing more than 150 bills to undo, slow down or reverse some of the very policies that secured a larger and more engaged voter base in 2020 and brought us closer to the American promise of a more inclusive democracy.
This is especially concerning because hidden in the administrative success of last year's general election is this fact: Despite the historic turnout nationwide, our progress as a democracy is based primarily on state-level policies, which still vary widely and have the biggest impact on how people actually vote.
This point is clearly illustrated in the 2020 edition of "America Goes to the Polls." Out this month, it's the seventh biennial state-by-state report on voter turnout and turnout changes from the previous comparable federal election. It's a joint production of the U.S. Elections Project and Nonprofit VOTE, a nonpartisan organization that works to help other nonprofits promote active civic participation and democracy.
The report gets under the hood of the last presidential election, looking at the detailed data to examine which policies had the biggest impact on voter participation.
One policy we examined was voting by mail. Overall, the states with the highest usage of mail voting saw turnout increase the most — as much as 9 percentage points. In the report's ranking of all 50 states (plus D.C.) by turnout, half of the top 10 states proactively mailed ballots directly to all registered voters. Conversely, eight of the bottom 10 required voters to overcome significant barriers to mail voting, such as excuse requirements or notary signatures, reducing how many voters could use the policy.
And while such states as Hawaii, New Jersey, and Montana saw impressive voter turnout increases (14 points, 10 points, and 9 points, respectively) after expanding mail voting access, bills to reduce access and eligibility have already been introduced in those same states.
Another successful policy was same-day registration, also known as Election Day registration, which allowed eligible citizens to both get on the rolls and cast their ballots on Nov. 3 last year — overcoming the nearly four-week deadline many states employ.
Eight of the top 10 states for turnout had implemented the policy. On average, the same-day registration states had a 5 percentage point turnout advantage over states without it. This system has now been adopted by 23 states, roughly half the country — including eight that have implemented it since 2016.
However, legislatures in some of the states that saw turnout increase because of same-day registration are now pushing bills to eliminate the policy. And at least three others are looking to restrict or eliminate automatic voter registration — a policy that encourages registration whenever citizens do business with their departments of motor vehicles or other state government agencies.
By many measures, 2020 was a tough year on everyone — requiring massive, uncomfortable upheavals to our norms that most are ready to leave behind. However, it was an exemplary year for voting policy advances. It is a year we should consider the "new normal" for civic engagement, not just a consequence of extraordinary times.
It's important to recognize that, in the larger picture, our country continues to strive towards greater representation by increasing access to the levers of democracy to those routinely marginalized. But that progress is not guaranteed and cannot be sustained without real effort and often sacrifice.
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The public's access to electoral democracy may be about to dangerously contract — or else expand dramatically.
So far, the movement to restrict access to the ballot box has gotten by far the most play. The Georgia law enacted to national headlines last week goes way beyond barring water deliveries at polling places, in part by setting a disturbing precedent in stripping administrative power from nonpartisan election officials and placing it in the hands of politicians. Broad new curbs on voting in Iowa, enacted three week ago, include criminal charges for local officials who skirt the new rules. Six other states are considering similar moves to take power from nonpartisan election administrators.
Less noticed, meanwhile, has been a parallel movement to expand voter access in states literally from coast to coast.
The most widely cited statistic in this year's voting rights debate is that, as of a month ago, 253 bills to restrict access to the polls had been proposed in 43 states. Many take aim at early and absentee voting, automatic voter registration, ballot drop boxes and other practices that helped fuel last fall's record turnout.
But the same progressive think tank that made that calculation, the Brennan Center for Justice, has also tallied 704 bills that set out to expand voting access — also in 43 states. These include Washington's recent move to restore voting rights to felons as soon as they're released from prison, a Kentucky measure to make permanent the early and mail-in voting rules rolled out last year in response to the pandemic, and bills in Vermont and Virginia that similarly institutionalize ballot drop boxes and prepaid postage on absentee envelopes.
Republicans driving the restrictive legislation say the curbs are needed to restore voter confidence and combat fraud, despite zero evidence of the widespread cheating claimed by former President Donald Trump. Democrats from President Biden on down cast the GOP campaign as a return to Jim Crow and an assault on democracy. Voting rights groups have raised alarms that the Republican statehouse crusade is not only a deliberate effort to disenfranchise Black voters but also would threaten the principle of independent election administration that's long been a democratic norm.
The GOP-led push, moreover, has lit a fire under Democrats mobilizing behind the sweeping package of democracy reforms passed by the House under the label HR 1 and pending in the Senate as S 1. That legislation would significantly expand access to the polls by mandating nationally the easy registration, absentee ballot application and early in-person voting rules that vary significantly among the states.
But it would also do much more, from prohibiting partisan gerrymandering to imposing broad new campaign financing and government ethics rules. Republicans are uniformly opposed and have cast the measure as a partisan power grab, while deep-pocketed conservative groups have turned the campaign to defeat the bill into a GOP rallying cry.
But recent polling concludes the measure, known as the For the People Act, is "one of the most popular legislative items in recent history, across party lines, demographic groups, and geographies." Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of Republicans support the bill, according to a survey this month by Global Strategy Group and ALG Research, as do 73 percent of independents and 96 percent of Democrats.
Senate support for the bill, which recently secured crucial albeit only partial backing from the most conservative Democratic senator, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, is also strengthening Democrats' determination to eliminate or substantially weaken the filibuster. The showdown over the future of what amounts to a 60-vote requirement for most policy changes, however, seems to be months away.
If enacted, the bill would invalidate much of the new wave of GOP voting restrictions and create broad new federal mandates for automatic and same-day voter registration, voting machines with paper trails and post-prison felon enfranchisement, among other provisions.
This, despite the fact that many of the voting practices that GOP state legislators have set out to scrap or curtail — most notably lengthy periods for early in-person voting and easy rules for voting absentee or by mail — are broadly popular with Republican voters. Close to half of all votes (46 percent) were cast absentee or by mail in the presidential election last year, more than double the share in 2016. No-excuse voting by mail is permitted in 29 states, many of them deep Republican red. Last year, several GOP governors and election officials moved to expand voting by mail, even as Trump assailed it as an invitation to massive cheating (and then casting his own ballot using Florida's permissive system.)
Several provisions in HR 1 originated as bipartisan initiatives, according to a white paper released by the Campaign Legal Center, including modernizing registration and early voting, and putting the drawing of all House districts in the hands of 50 independent commissions.
The nonprofit, which promotes easier voting and stricter money-in-politics rules, is working with state and local partners to educate voters about how their franchise might be curtailed if many of the Republican statehouse bills get enacted.
"These are unpopular provisions," says Jonathan Diaz, the Campaign Legal Center's legal counsel for voting rights. "They run contrary to the security of our democracy."
Republican-aligned activist groups, from Heritage Action to Tea Party Nation, are raising and spending big money in the fight over voter access. But beyond fundraising, it's not clear that restricting voting will turn out to be a winning strategy for the GOP. Trump actually got more support in 2020 than in 2016 from Black and Latino voters — the very groups that many of the looming restrictions risk disenfranchising.
"What's surprising is how seemingly short-sighted they might be," Elise Wirkus, legislative affairs manager for the democracy reform advocacy group Issue One, said of the GOP-proposed voting curbs. "What I don't think we know yet is how limiting early voting or vote by mail could hurt Republican voter access down the line."
Issue One (which started but remains journalistically independent from The Fulcrum) has convened a bipartisan National Council on Election Integrity in hopes of finding common ground on election integrity. The group will host a forum next week on "How State Voting Proposals Could Impact How Millions of Americans Vote."
Among the issues that could bring Republicans and Democrats together, says Wirkus, is the need to increase funding for election administration. Some democracy advocates joined Republicans in raising questions about the private funding from executives at Facebook and elsewhere that helped underwrite 2020 election administration and voting infrastructure. At the same time, some big businesses — including Coca-Cola and Home Depot, both headquartered in Atlanta — have expressed opposition to Georgia's new voter restrictions.
The more aggressively Republicans have moved to restrict ballot access, in other words, the more Democrats have stepped up their campaign to expand it. At the state level, the outcome may be a patchwork of laws that make it much easier to participate in democracy in some states but much harder in others. On Capitol Hill, the high-stakes fight over HR 1 has brought the voting wars to a crucial turning point.
Carney is a contributing writer.
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