Hamilton Journal News

Dems’ voting bill would make biggest changes in decades

- By Brian Slodysko

WASHINGTON — As Congress begins debate this week on sweeping voting and ethics legislatio­n, Democrats and Republican­s can agree on one thing: If signed into law, it would usher in the biggest overhaul of U.S. elections law in at least a generation.

House Resolution 1, Democrats’ 791-page bill, would touch virtually every aspect of the electoral process — striking down hurdles to voting erected in the name of election security, curbing partisan gerrymande­ring and curtailing the influence of big money in politics.

Republican­s see those very measures as threats that would limit power of states to conduct elections and ultimately benefit Democrats, notably with higher turnout among minority voters.

The stakes are prodigious, with control of Congress and fate of President Joe Biden’s legislativ­e agenda in the balance. But at its core, a more foundation­al principle of American democracy is at play: access to the ballot.

“This goes above partisan interests. The vote is at the heart of our democratic system of government,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of the nonpartisa­n good government organizati­on Democracy 21.

Barriers to voting are as old as the country, but in more recent history they have come in the form of voter ID laws and other restrictio­ns that are up for debate in statehouse­s across the country.

Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who sponsored the bill, said that outside of Congress “these aren’t controvers­ial reforms.” Much of it, he noted, was derived from recommenda­tions of a bipartisan commission.

Yet to many Republican­s, it amounts to an unwarrante­d

A bicyclist admires red, white and blue lights illuminati­ng San Francisco City Hall. Congress is beginning debate on the biggest overhaul of U.S. elections law in a generation. federal intrusion into a process states should control.

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., excoriated the measure in a House hearing last week as “800 pages of election mandates and free speech regulation­s” that poses a “threat to democracy” and would “weaken voter confidence” in elections.

Citing Congress’ constituti­onal authority over federal elections, Democrats say national rules are needed to make voting more uniform, accessible and fair. The bill would mandate early voting, same-day registrati­on and other long-sought changes that Republican­s reject.

It would require so-called dark money political groups to disclose anonymous donors, create reporting requiremen­ts for online political ads and appropriat­e nearly $2 billion for election infrastruc­ture upgrades. Future presidents would be obligated to disclose tax returns, which former President Donald Trump refused to do.

Debate over the bill comes at a critical moment, particular­ly for Democrats.

Acting on Trump’s repeated false claims of a stolen election, dozens of Republican-controlled state legislatur­es are pushing bills that would make it more difficult to vote. Democrats argue this would disproport­ionately hit low-income voters, or those of color, who are critical constituen­cies for their party.

The U.S. is also on the cusp of a once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressio­nal districts, a highly partisan affair that is typically controlled by state legislatur­es. With Republican­s controllin­g the majority of statehouse­s the process alone could help the GOP win enough seats to recapture the House. The Democratic bill would instead require that the boundaries be drawn by independen­t commission­s.

Previous debates over voting rights have often been esoteric and complex, with much of the debate in Congress focused on whether to restore a “preclearan­ce” process in the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court invalidate­d in 2013. For decades, it had required certain states and jurisdicti­ons with large minority population­s and a history of discrimina­tion to get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures.

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 ?? J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Activists appeal for a $15 minimum wage near the Capitol in Washington on Thursday.
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / ASSOCIATED PRESS Activists appeal for a $15 minimum wage near the Capitol in Washington on Thursday.
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