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Voters wait in line on June 9, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images
Voters wait in line on June 9, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images

For the People Act: Inside the voting rights bill before it’s broken apart

H.R. 1 faces a similar battle as Biden’s comprehensive immigration bill. But to make progress, piecemeal, targeted bills must be considered.  

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The For the People Act of 2021 (H.R. 1) passed the Democrat-controlled House on March 2, but it faces a more difficult battle with the upcoming vote in the Senate. The Senate version of the bill, designated S.1, was introduced on March 17. 

The essence of the bill is to make voting easier. 

It allows Congress to protect the right to vote, by regulating federal elections across 10 titles. The legislation would end congressional gerrymandering, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, increase safeguards against foreign interference, strengthen government ethics rules and more. 

H.R 1 would also enable online voter registration in federal elections nationwide. Voters commonly register using paper forms. After state officials manually transfer each voter’s information from paper to registration system, time and accuracy are subject to losses. 

Bill co-sponsors would want most of these reforms implemented for the November 2022 general election, with some restrictions. 

Every Democrat in the Senate, with the exception of Joe Manchin (D-WV) supports the voting rights bill. Not one Republican supports the nearly 800-page measure, meaning Democrats are unlikely to win support from any without costly moves to compromise. 

But Senators still made the case for the bill on Wednesday as they convened for an opening hearing on the sweeping election bill that would expand voting rights and limit some Republican state legislators’ most recent efforts to restrict access to the ballot box.

“In a majority of states, new voters are able to obtain a rifle quicker than they're able to cast their first ballot. It seems to me we have our priorities entirely backwards when it comes to this. When we make it easier to buy a gun than we do to cast a ballot,” said. Sen. Alex Padilla on the Senate floor. 

There's likely much more partisan back and forth ahead, especially as it becomes increasingly clear that H.R. 1 will face a similar fate as the Biden-backed U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. 

The bill will likely not pass the Senate, but it has laid out a groundwork for targeted reforms that could be pursued, just as Dems have recently done with the American Dream and Promise Act, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which both passed the House this month. 

The main voting reform between the crosshairs out of the For The People Act is ending the filibuster

So far, the near-even partisan split has ramped-up the debate over the Senate filibuster, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already expressed both his opposition to the bill’s campaign finance aspects, and his support of the filibuster to remain. 

This is why targeted avenues must be pursued, argues University of California, Irvine Professor Richard Hansen, before talks of voter reform subside, especially now in the aftermath of Former President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter integrity during the 2020 elections. 

“Soon Democrats might lose control of one or both houses of Congress, which would mean H.R. 1 or other voting reform no longer have a chance of passing,” Hansen wrote for The Washington Post. 

According to The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan, independent organization that analyzes election rules, state lawmakers have filed 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states as of last month.

Republican state legislators in Texas and Georgia are pushing a barrage of new bills to restrict voter access based on unsubstantiated voter fraud. In 2020, Texas saw record voter turnout, highlighted by never-before-seen early voting by communities of color, despite efforts even then to restrict access to the polls. 

Most recently, Georgia Republicans penned into law a sweeping elections bill that will further restrict voting access, making it illegal to offer someone water in a voting line, among other measures. 

The bill installs new oversight of county election boards, restricts who can vote with provisional ballots, and requires runoff elections to be held four weeks after the original vote, instead of the current nine weeks.

Democrats and voting rights groups say such efforts target voters of color, particularly Georgia’s Black population which was crucial to the state flipping for Biden in November. Months later, Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff flipped the Senate in the January runoff elections. 

With the For the People Act at a standstill, and voter suppression bills making a wave across the country, targeted measures that directly address voter suppression, with a bigger chance of bipartisan support are now on the table. 

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