House Democrats passed sweeping voting and ethics legislation over unanimous Republican opposition, advancing to the Senate what would be the largest overhaul of the U.S. election law in at least 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.
The bill include provisions to:
- Require states to automatically register eligible voters.
- Create public financing for congressional campaigns.
- Restrict gerrymandering of congressional districts.
- Amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited election spending by corporations and unions.
- Require at least 15 days of early voting in federal elections.
- Restore voting rights to those who have been convicted of felonies and have completed their sentences.
- Compel Twitter and Facebook to disclose the source of money for political ads on the social media platforms.
- Require the president and vice president, and candidates for those offices, to disclose 10 years of their tax returns.
- Institute an ethics code for the Supreme Court that would apply to justices with an eye toward preventing presidential conflicts of interest.
- Ban congressional lawmakers from serving on corporate boards.
- Stop lawmakers from using taxpayer money to pay employment discrimination settlements in cases stemming from their actions.
A proposed amendment to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 was defeated in the House and was not included in the final bill.
The bill aims to counter voting rights safeguards advancing in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen 2020 election.
It faces an uncertain fate in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it has little chance of passing without changes to procedural rules that currently allow Republicans to block it.
Republicans insiste the bill gives license to unwanted federal interference in states' authority to conduct their own elections — ultimately benefiting Democrats through higher turnout, most notably among minorities.
“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 Tuesday.
This bill “will put a stop at the voter suppression that we’re seeing debated right now,” said Democrat Rep. Nikema Williams, a new congresswoman who represents the Georgia district that deceased voting rights champion John Lewis held for years. “This bill is the ‘Good Trouble’ he fought for his entire life.”
The measure has been a priority for Democrats since they won their House majority in 2018. But it has taken on added urgency.
Spurred by Trump's claims, state lawmakers across the U.S. have filed more than 200 bills in 43 states that would limit ballot access, according to a tally kept by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
In Iowa, the legislature voted to cut absentee and in-person early voting, while preventing local elections officials from setting up additional locations to make early voting easier.
In Georgia, the House on Monday voted for legislation requiring identification to vote by mail that would also allow counties to cancel early in-person voting on Sundays, when many Black voters cast ballots after church.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court appeared ready to uphold voting restrictions in Arizona, which could make it harder to challenge state election laws in the future.
When asked why proponents sought to uphold the Arizona laws, which limit who can turn in absentee ballots and enable ballots to be thrown out if they are cast in the wrong precinct, a lawyer for the state's Republican Party was stunningly clear.
“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” said attorney Michael Carvin. “Politics is a zero-sum game."
Battle lines are quickly being drawn by outside groups who plan to spend millions of dollars on advertising and outreach campaigns.
Republicans “are not even being coy about it. They are saying the ‘quiet parts’ out loud,” said Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, a left-leaning group that aims to curtail the influence of corporate money in politics. Her organization has launched a $10 million effort supporting the bill. “For them, this isn’t about protecting our democracy or protecting our elections. This is about pure partisan political gain.”
Conservatives, meanwhile, are mobilizing a $5 million pressure campaign, urging moderate Senate Democrats to oppose rule changes needed to pass the measure.
“H.R. 1 is not about making elections better,” said Ken Cuccinelli, a former Trump administration Homeland Security official who is leading the effort. "It’s about the opposite. It’s intended to dirty up elections.”
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 a 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 narrower aspects, like the creation of a public financing system for congressional campaigns that would be funded through fines and settlement proceeds raised from corporate bad actors.
They've also attacked an effort to revamp the federal government's toothless elections cop. That agency, the Federal Election Commission, has been gripped by partisan deadlock for years, allowing campaign finance law violators to go mostly unchecked.
Another section that's been a focus of Republican ire would 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.
Still, the biggest obstacles lie ahead in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.
On some legislation, it takes only 51 votes to pass, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. On a deeply divisive bill like this one, they would need 60 votes under the Senate’s rules to overcome a Republican filibuster — a tally they are unlikely to reach.
Some Democrats have discussed options like lowering the threshold to break a filibuster, or creating a workaround that would allow priority legislation, including a separate John Lewis Voting Rights bill, to be exempt. Biden has been cool to filibuster reforms and Democrat congressional aides say the conversations are fluid but underway.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not committed to a time frame but vowed “to figure out the best way to get big, bold action on a whole lot of fronts.”
He said: “We’re not going to be the legislative graveyard. ... People are going to be forced to vote on them, yes or no, on a whole lot of very important and serious issues.”
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