The measure would require states to provide same-day voter registration, to allow at least two weeks of early voting and to offer drop boxes for ballots.
WASHINGTON (TIP): The House on Wednesday, March 3, approved a sweeping package of election and government reforms, amplifying the issue of voting rights amid a contentious national debate in the wake of the November elections.
Nearly every Democrat voted for the bill, which includes a slew of ballot access, campaign finance and ethics reforms that came under renewed scrutiny after four years of the Trump administration. It would also require states to provide same-day voter registration, to allow at least two weeks of early voting and to offer drop boxes for ballots — some of the same measures that Republicans are trying to roll back in statehouses across the country. “This reminds me of what it must have felt like at Valley Forge,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news appearance on the steps of the Capitol earlier Wednesday. “Everything is at stake. We must win this race, this fight for this bill.” “At the same time as we are gathering here to honor our democracy, across the country over 200 bills are being put together, provisions they’re putting forward, to suppress the vote,” Pelosi said.
The measure passed 220-210.
House Democrats passed a nearly identical bill, led by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), shortly after seizing back control of the chamber in 2019. No Republicans voted for the bill then.
This year’s passage was more complicated for Pelosi and her leadership team, with just a four-vote margin. Earlier this week, a group of moderates negotiated changes to one aspect of the bill — the public financing of elections — after facing intense criticism in their districts, in part because of a barrage of GOP attack ads that falsely claimed taxpayer funds would be paying for campaigns.
“If signed into law, H.R. 1 would be the greatest expansion of the federal government’s role in our elections than we have ever seen,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said.
Democratic leaders also worked with senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus to resolve concerns over a redistricting provision. With concern about a state mandate to establish independent commissions on redistricting, Democrats ultimately agreed to provide more flexibility to states in the current round of redistricting, while still requiring that states meet certain standards to prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering.
The Senate, now in Democratic control, is expected to take up the bill, which will force Republicans — particularly those up for reelection in 2022 — on the record on the issue.
The bill, dubbed H.R. 1, is the first of multiple voting rights bills the House will consider this year. The House also plans to approve a bill, named for the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, that would restore key parts of the landmark voting measure of 1965. Both bills’ fates are uncertain in the Senate, where they would require GOP votes.
The Bill is explained here.
A set of national voter registration and mail-in voting standards: H.R. 1 requires the chief election official in each state — the secretary of state in most, but not all — to establish an automatic voter registration system that gathers individuals’ information from government databases and registers them unless they intentionally opt out. And it says it’s the government’s responsibility to keep that information up to date, based on information from government agencies. The law would also guarantee voters same-day registration, either at early voting sites or at precincts on Election Day. Each state would be required to allow at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections, for at least 10 hours a day with at least some time before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. The law would limit how states can purge voter rolls. Nonpartisan redistricting commissions: In an attempt to get rid of gerrymandering, the law would require every state to use independent commissions (not made up of lawmakers) to approve newly drawn congressional districts.
“Regardless of whether it’s a red state or a blue state, we are seeing significant manipulation in the legislative redrawing of districts,” said Tom Lopach, CEO of the nonpartisan Voter Participation Center. “H.R. 1 presents an opportunity for everyone to get onboard with independent, unbiased and balanced redistricting that frankly is good government.”
Big changes in campaign finance law: H.R. 1 would require super PACs and “dark money” groups to disclose their donors publicly, a step Democrats say would eliminate one of the most opaque parts of the American election process. It would establish a public funding match for small-dollar donations, funded by a fee on corporations and banks paying civil or criminal penalties.
New ethics rules for public servants: The bill would create the first-ever ethics code for Supreme Court justices, to be created within a year of the bill’s passage.
It would also stop a controversial practice in Congress: When a member of Congress settles a sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuit, in certain cases they can use taxpayer money to settle. H.R. 1 would prevent taxpayer money from being used for such settlements.
The bill would also create more oversight on lobbyists and foreign agents.
A requirement that presidential candidates disclose their tax returns: This one is a little more relevant to recent events. Democrats have been frustrated for years that Donald Trump never released his tax returns, either during his first election or his presidency, and H.R. 1 would require it by law.
President Biden’s comments that the leaders of states lifting coronavirus restrictions, like Texas and Mississippi, are guilty of “Neanderthal thinking” are, well, touching a nerve. But perhaps not in the way you’d expect.
“We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms,” Biden said Wednesday. “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.”
Several Republicans were mad — but only some directed their displeasure at the politicians Biden was referencing.
“President Biden said allowing Mississippians to decide how to protect themselves is ‘neanderthal thinking,’” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) tweeted. “Mississippians don’t need handlers. As numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts. I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them.”
Others seemed to be mad on behalf of Neanderthals. Or their descendants. Or cancel culture. Or something.
(With inputs from agencies)