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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Following in the footsteps of neighboring Georgia, Florida has become the second battleground state to pass an election overhaul bill designed to roll back access to absentee voting.
GOP lawmakers in Tallahassee pushed the legislation through both chambers Thursday, largely along party lines, with only one Republican senator voting against it. The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has touted Florida's current election system as "the gold standard." He is likely to sign the bill.
Despite finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud, Republicans maintained this legislation would make Florida's elections more secure. Former President Donald Trump won Florida by 3.3 percentage points in the 2020 election.
Once approved by the governor, this bill will enact a long list of election changes, mostly aimed at restricting voting by mail.
Floridians who wish to vote by mail or make changes to their voter registration will be required to provide their driver's license number, state-issued ID number or last four digits of their Social Security number. They will also need to request an absentee ballot for each election, with the bill prohibiting permanent vote-by-mail lists.
The use of drop boxes for absentee ballots will be limited, but not completely banned, as was originally proposed by GOP lawmakers. Drop boxes will be available only during early voting hours, when they will be monitored. The location of a drop box cannot be changed within 30 days of an election.
Electioneering activity will be prohibited within 150 feet of a drop box, like it is for polling locations. The legislation prevents people from "engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or the effect of influencing a voter," but allows election workers or volunteers to hand out food or water to voters in line in a nonpartisan way.
This legislation also targets so-called "ballot harvesting" by prohibiting the possession of two or more absentee ballots. Additionally, it allows partisan poll watchers to closely observe the ballot counting process and more easily dispute ballots that are wet, wrinkled or otherwise too damaged to run through voting machines.
Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, lambasted the Florida Legislature for approving the changes, saying it will only make it harder for people to have their voices heard and ballots counted.
"Florida's Republican legislative leaders seem determined to weaken the system that voters have relied on, without significant problems, for the better part of a generation — a system that was originally created by Republicans," she said in a statement.
Many of these provisions match elements of the Georgia law enacted in March. Other GOP-led states, like Texas and Arizona, are advancing similar legislation.
Meanwhile Democrats are advocating for more expansive measures, such as restoring voting rights for felons, adopting same-day or automatic voter registration, and implementing no-excuse absentee voting.
Democrats and voting rights advocacy groups also argue restricting access to the ballot box disproportionately affects voters who are nonwhite, disabled and elderly.
"Senate Bill 90 is one part of a multi-pronged strategy to shift power away from Florida communities toward legislative bodies that are reliably anti-voter," said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project. "We must see this legislation for what it is: an effort to block the rising political power of Floridians of color as the state demographics increasingly 'browns.'"
Good-government groups are keeping the pressure on Congress to pass the For the People Act, a sweeping democracy reform bill that includes protections against provisions include in the Florida and Georgia bills. House Democrats passed HR 1 in March, but the bill faces a much steeper challenge in the 50-50 Senate with the filibuster still intact.
"Florida is following Georgia in a race to the bottom by erecting barriers to voting that are politically motivated," said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote. "It's imperative that the Senate pass the For the People Act to fight back against this anti-democratic attack on the right to vote."
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This is the 11th installment of an ongoing Q&A series.
As Democrats take power in Washington, if only tenuously, many democracy reform groups see a potential path toward making the American political system work better. In this installment, Bob LaRocca, executive director of the Voter Protection Corps, answers our questions about 2020 accomplishments and plans for the year ahead. His organization uses data-driven solutions to battle voter suppression and disenfranchisement. LaRocca's responses have been edited for clarity and length.
First, let's briefly recap 2020. What was your biggest triumph last year?
American voters, election officials and election workers achieved a remarkable feat in 2020: holding a presidential election during a once-in-a-century pandemic and still achieving the highest turnout in history. Some states, like New Hampshire and South Carolina, adopted significant voting expansions on a temporary basis to address the challenges Covid-19 presented. Others like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia implemented major permanent advances in voting rights for the first time. The Voter Protection Corps was proud to work with city, state and local officials to help ensure that every legitimate voter was able to register, vote and have their vote counted. The Voter Protection Corps released a national action plan to protect in-person voting, recruited poll workers across the county, and ensured students in New Hampshire had the resources they needed to vote. We also partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to create a data tool to identify counties at risk for voting challenges and the possibility of voter disenfranchisement due to vast poll worker recruitment shortfalls.
And your biggest setback?
Even though we made progress in 2020, we faced constant threats to safely casting a ballot, a commander-in-chief who spread disinformation and encouraged voter suppression at every turn, and an attack on our Capitol by white supremacists trying to overturn the election. And while we did everything in our power to ensure every legitimate voter was able to register, vote and have their vote counted, there is no doubt that these suppressive measures affected the behavior of many voters. Our electoral system was broken long before Trump and his enablers gained power.
What is one learning experience you took from 2020?
It's so important to be patient with the process during an election, and especially on Election Day. Anyone who has volunteered or worked in an election knows how difficult it is to wait for the results, but given the unique circumstances of 2020, this feeling was exacerbated among our staff. We constantly had to remind ourselves, and everyone in our communities: Every vote must be counted and we won't know the winner of the presidential election on election night. That is okay. Many states have antiquated systems of waiting to count mail-in ballots and, as a result, those ballots took a few days to process. It was more critical in 2020 to remind ourselves, our friends and our families to be patient through this process.
Now let's look ahead. What issues will your organization prioritize in 2021?
Even though we made tremendous progress in 2020, election administration in the United States is a patchwork, with differing state laws, thousands of local election jurisdictions nationwide, countless outdated systems and policies, and a history of unequal access that dates back to the founding. We have a long way to go to ensure every eligible voter can register, vote and have their vote counted.
Thankfully, we know how to get there. This year, the Voter Protection Corps will focus our efforts on pushing state and local leaders to implement important reforms outlined in our Democracy Benchmark. The report provides specific recommendations, including:
- Voter registration: Every state must offer same-day registration, ensure online voter registration is accessible and entirely online for all eligible voters, adopt automatic voter registration, relax restrictions on third-party voter registration, allow teenagers to pre-register, and end the racist practice of disenfranchising people with felony convictions.
- Voting in person: Every state must provide access to at least 15 days of early voting with uniform hours that include mornings, nights and weekends; allow voters to vote at any Election Day voter center in their local election jurisdiction rather than requiring voters to use an assigned polling place; abolish or relax discriminatory and unnecessary voter identification requirements; reduce the risk of frivolous and intimidating voter challenges; and minimize law enforcement presence at voting sites.
- Vote by mail: Every state must adopt no-excuse voting by mail, allow voters to request mail ballots online, provide multiple options for returning mail ballots (including by mail, at a dropbox or voting site, and allowing a person the voter trusts to return the ballot for them), provide prepaid postage, ensure all mail ballots received within a week of Election Day are counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, prevent local election offices from rejecting mail ballots unnecessarily, and provide voters the opportunity to fix problems that cause their mail ballots to be rejected.
- Election administration capacity: Every state must assume responsibility for ensuring that local election offices have the funding and flexibility they need for adequate capacity during election season. State election offices should also have the funding, infrastructure and mandate to ensure that every eligible voter is able to vote conveniently, and that their votes are counted.
How will Democratic control of the federal government change the ways you work toward your goals?
State and local leaders carry great responsibility for righting many of the wrongs we saw in 2020, and many of the states where reform is needed most continue to be led by forces that oppose increased access. Still, it is also essential that the Biden administration and Congress prioritize voting rights at the federal level. We encourage Congress to quickly pass the For The People Act and the John Lewis Act, among other measures.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge moving forward? And how do you plan to tackle it?
Those responsible for perpetuating disinformation and attempting to overthrow our democracy in the horrific attack at the Capitol — including President Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress — must be held accountable. Policymakers must not use lies about the integrity of our election to justify voter suppression. State legislatures across the country are seeking to curtail voting opportunities that have been proven to expand access to the ballot — such as early and mail-in voting -— and erect other barriers that make it harder for people to vote. The challenges before us are daunting. We must ensure that efforts to advance voting rights don't dissipate as we move away from the election. The Voter Protection Corps will continue to fight any efforts to suppress legitimate votes and use data to support state and local leaders as they continue to ensure that every American has safe, convenient, and equal access to their most fundamental right.
Finish the sentence. In two years, American democracy will ...
be innovative, efficient and inclusive.
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Arkansas is positioned to become the next state to tighten rules around voting and election procedures.
This week, the Republican-majority Legislature approved two measures that would implement new restrictions on absentee voting and activities near polling places. Both bills now head to GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is expected to sign them.
This continues a nationwide trend of Republican lawmakers pushing hundreds of restrictive voting bills in response to false claims of fraud in the 2020 elections. At the same time, Democratic legislators have been advocating for easing access to the ballot box.
One of the bills recently approved by the Arkansas Legislature would amend the absentee ballot process in the state. County clerks and other designated election officials would be barred from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who had not requested them. But election officials could display a mail voting application form online.
Arkansas is one of 15 states that currently requires an excuse to vote by mail.
The bill would also deny an absentee ballot to any voter if their signature on the application does not match the signature on the voter registration form. Another provision of the bill would make the possession of more than four absentee ballots by one person "a rebuttable presumption of intent to defraud." Democrats argue the practice of collecting ballots helps the elderly and those who live far from mail service or ballot boxes.
Democrats pushed back against the signature matching rule, raising concerns that it would disproportionately impact elderly and disabled voters. But Republicans maintained it would prevent voter fraud — of which there was scant evidence in last year's election.
On Tuesday, the state Senate voted 27-8, along party lines, to approve this legislation, which was passed by the state House earlier this month.
The other bill would prevent someone from being within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling site while voting is taking place, unless they are entering or leaving the building "for lawful purposes." Arkansas's current laws already ban electioneering and other political activity outside polling places.
Proponents of the bill said it is intended to stop groups from handing out water, food or other items to voters in line outside polling places. A similar prohibition recently passed in Georgia has been decried by voting rights advocates.
Before the Arkansas House voted 74-23, also on Tuesday, to send this bill to the governor, Republican lawmakers defended the legislation by saying it would protect voters and prevent people from congregating outside polling locations.
But Democrats argued it went beyond addressing electioneering and could deter voters from coming to the polls.
"I want you to think very carefully about what our state looks like when we pass legislation that creates barriers, however small, to keep people from the polls in whatever way," said Democratic state Rep. Vivian Flowers.
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