WASHINGTON — Democrats in the Senate are trying this week to convince their Republican colleagues that updated voting rights legislation is necessary, but the bill they are bringing forward is unlikely to pass.
The For the People Act, which passed in the House largely along party lines in March, is unlikely to pass the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster in the evenly divided Senate. In the House, one Democrat and all Republicans voted against it, and it has no Republican support in the Senate. One Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has also proposed changes.
The bill is relevant as Republican-led states have introduced a slew of new voting restrictions that civil rights groups fear could suppress the vote for marginalized groups and make it harder to vote overall. It could be voted on as early as Tuesday.
So what’s in the sweeping voting rights bill?
Early voting and voter registration
The largest focus of the For the People Act would federalize provisions Democrats hope would make it easier for people to vote and register to vote.
It would increase voter access by expanding early voting, allowing for same-day voter registration, enacting automatic registration for federal elections and lowering identification requirements. States would also be required to have electronic voter registration, as well as register eligible felons after they’ve completed their sentences.
Voters would be allowed to vote by mail without an excuse preventing them from showing up to the polls in person. The bill also requires the use of paper ballots. It would also restrict practices used to purge voter rolls, which voting rights groups say unfairly disadvantage low-income and minority voters.
John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act vs. For the People Act: What’s the difference between the two?
The bill would make it a requirement for states to establish independent, bipartisan commissions to oversee the once-every-decade redistricting process that determines how voters will be represented.
Some states currently use independent commissions while others leave redistricting in the hands of the party in control. Democrats hope to remove partisanship from the process, and civil rights groups say that voters of color are negatively impacted by redistricting in states controlled by Republicans.
The Census Bureau earlier this year released apportionment data from the 2020 census that showed some red states like Florida and Texas gaining districts, with some blue states like California and Illinois losing one each.
Democrats worry that gerrymandering could give Republicans more control in the House after the 2022 midterms. Democratic-led states would also be required under the For the People Act to establish bipartisan commissions to oversee the process.
One of the less advertised portions of the For the People Act would overhaul campaign finance rules and include provisions Democrats have long advocated for.
Those provisions would expand the requirement for nonprofits involved in politics to disclose who their donors are; require politicians to wait longer after leaving office to become lobbyists; and require all presidents, vice presidents and major party candidates to release their tax returns to the public.
The bill would also overhaul the Federal Elections Commission, a six-person body that often finds itself deadlocked. It would reduce the number of commissioners from six to five, with two members from each major party and a fifth independent tiebreaker. Commissioners would also no longer be allowed to hold their seats indefinitely after their terms end.
The bill would provide funding for upgrades to the nation’s election security processes. States would be able to secure grants to help with equipment and security upgrades to prevent foreign election interference.
The Department of Homeland Security would also be directed to create programs where ethical hackers would be hired to identify flaws in election security with the goal of preventing hacking of election systems.
Grants would also be established to conduct risk-limiting audits of elections, in which a portion of ballots are audited to ensure there is high probability that an electronic count is correct.
What Joe Manchin has proposed
Last week, Manchin delivered a list of provisions in the bill he supports and opposes, along with some compromises he said he would consider voting for if enacted.
Manchin’s list includes expanding early voting, banning partisan gerrymandering and making Election Day a public holiday. He proposed “allowable alternatives” for voter identification. He also included voter ID requirements, which is largely opposed by Democrats who say such requirements make it harder for marginalized people to vote.
Republicans including Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have shot down the For the People Act, even if it is amended to suit Manchin, saying the compromises still contain the “rotten core” of the original bill.
Contributing: Savannah Behrmann
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