House Democrats Pass Major Legislation on Voting Rights and Government Ethics

March 3, 2021
In The News

House Democrats on Wednesday night approved a sweeping voting rights and government ethics bill that seeks to expand voting access and make campaign finance more transparent. The nearly 800-page bill, which would overhaul key areas of elections administration, faces steeper odds in the closely divided Senate. “It establishes all the best practices and standards that we want to see when it comes to how people register and vote in America,” Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, the chief sponsor of the bill known as H.R. 1, said during a conference call Tuesday. “And we have the opportunity to get it done.” The legislation is advancing as Republicans in statehouses around the country are pushing for dozens of new restrictions on voting after record turnout in the 2020 election, which federal officials in President Donald Trump’s administration called “the most secure in American history.” The turnout handed Democrats control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, and helped Republicans expand their majorities in statehouses. It also spurred Republicans, led by Trump, to repeatedly make false claims about a rigged election and call for new restrictions on early and absentee voting. The House passed a similar voting rights bill in 2019. Unlike then, Democrats now control the evenly split Senate, but the legislation still faces difficult odds. Sarbanes acknowledged that the barriers ahead in the Senate “are tricky.” Some Democrats are pushing for an end to the filibuster rule that requires a 60-vote majority for most legislation, but there does not appear to be enough support within the party at this time. Sarbanes said there is a “powerful” sense that the opportunity to enact such expansive voting protections may not be there in the future. “The general environment and atmosphere that this change is coming forward in, this bill is being presented in, increases the chances that we can get it over the finish line,” he said. “Exactly how that gets done, I’m not going to pre-judge. But I think it can happen, and I think it can happen early enough in this election cycle that many of these important changes can be implemented in time for the 2022 midterms.” The bill has several provisions aimed at standardizing rules across states to make it easier to vote, including expanding early and absentee voting. The legislation would allow for online and same-day voter registration and would make voter registration automatic when a person interacts with a government agency like a department of motor vehicles, unless they opt out. The bill would also require super PACs and other organizations that spend money in elections or judicial nominations to disclose more information about donors who give more than $10,000 during an election cycle.