Democrats in Congress begin sweeping effort to overhaul election laws


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Although the so-called For the People Act is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House, it faces stiff headwinds in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority and leading Republicans have vowed to kill the measure — something likely to happen because the measure is not expected to get the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

The stakes are enormous: The 2022 midterm elections loom, along with the once-a-decade process to redraw legislative districts that will shape which party controls Congress for years to come.

The fight over the federal voting bill comes as Republican-controlled states — acting on former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a rigged 2020 election — are moving swiftly to pass state laws that would make it harder to vote by imposing new voter ID requirements and cutting back on the early and mail-in balloting that so many states adopted or expanded last year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Just this week, Georgia’s GOP-controlled House approved a package that, among other provisions, would limit weekend early voting, restrict the use of drop boxes to return absentee ballots and bar advocates from providing food and water to voters as they wait in line to cast their ballots.

The liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has tallied 253 bills with restrictive voting provisions introduced this year in 43 states. Arizona and Georgia — states that flipped from Trump to President Joe Biden last November — led the way with nearly two dozen bills apiece, according to the center.

Stacey Abrams, whose voter outreach helped swing Georgia to Democrats in the 2020 presidential election and this year’s US Senate runoffs, recently implored House members to pass the For the People Act, saying it would “create a uniform foundation for democracy.”

“Congress must reject voter suppression and act boldly and quickly to safeguard, strengthen and preserve our democracy,” she testified before the House Administration Committee.

This week, the Biden administration threw its support behind the House Democrats’ voting measure, calling it “landmark legislation that is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections.”

The House bill promises significant changes to voting and campaign finance. On voting, it would require states to have at least 15 days of early voting in federal elections, allow for automatic and same-day voter registration, restore voting rights to former felons and bar states from prohibiting mail-in and curbside voting.

And on campaign finance, the bill would require so-called “dark money” nonprofit groups that engage in politics to disclose their larger donors. It would also give federal candidates as much as a 6-to-1 match of public funds for small donations to spur more grassroots giving.

Republicans have cast the bill, designated HR 1 to signify its importance to Democrats, as an example of federal overreach.

Conservative Supreme Court majority gets another crack at the Voting Rights Act

Speaking to activists over the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Orlando, Florida, Trump took aim at the proposed legislation, calling it a “monster” that “must be stopped.”

The most intense battle is focused on the Senate — where the chamber’s filibuster rules that require 60 votes to cut off debate and advance legislation make it harder to pass controversial bills.

Progressive groups are lobbying Senate Democrats to abandon the legislative filibuster for this and other Democratic priorities. Two Democrats — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — oppose ending the filibuster.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the measure, which Democrats introduced and passed in the House during the previous session of Congress. Last week, the Kentucky Republican called the House bill a “sweeping federal takeover” that is “exactly the wrong response to the distressing lack of faith in our elections.”

Groups on both sides of the political spectrum plan expensive advertising efforts to sway lawmakers. End Citizens United, aligned with progressives, plans to spend at least $10 million on a campaign to build support for the bill in the Senate, officials recently announced. It already has spent $1.5 million in an effort to shape the House debate.

The American Action Network — an outside group aligned with top House Republicans — this week launched a campaign to target 51 House Democrats. The network casts the bill’s matching-funds provision as an attempt to “shovel public funds” into the campaign accounts of “corrupt Washington liberals.”

Swing-district Democrats are emphasizing that the matching funds do not rely on taxpayer dollars. Instead, the money would come from financial settlements, fines and corporate penalties.

CNN’s Ali Main contributed to this story.

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