The House Is Poised to Pass a Major Voting Rights Bill—and Create a Helluva Battle in the Senate

March 3, 2021
In The News

With a supercharged assault on voting rights that includes introducing more than 250 new laws aimed at restricting voting in 43 states, the Republican Party this year has initiated a nationwide crusade against the foundation of American democracy. This week, House Democrats in Washington launched a counteroffensive that will soon move to the Senate, where this critical fight will likely lead to an all-out battle over how that chamber conducts its business. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on—and presumably pass—HR 1, dubbed the For the People Act, the most significant democracy reform bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The bill would go a long way toward thwarting the new GOP voter-suppression efforts by enacting a wide range of pro-voter measures for federal elections. This includes nationwide automatic and Election Day registration; two weeks of early voting in every state; the expansion of mail-in voting; the restoration of voting rights to people convicted of a felony who have served their time; restrictions on discriminatory voter-ID laws and voter purges; and the creation of independent redistricting commissions for House districts to prevent extreme gerrymandering. The bill also cracks down on dark money by implementing public financing for congressional campaigns, and it establishes new ethics rules for federal officeholders.... After being passed in the House on a party-line vote, the measure is expected to be blocked once again by Republicans in the Senate—that is, unless Senate Democrats eliminate the filibuster, which would require a supermajority of 60 votes for passage. In the 50–50 divided Senate, it is highly improbable that the Democrats will be able to win over 10 GOP votes to defeat a Republican filibuster. So a Senate clash over HR 1 is likely to become a key front in the ongoing battle over the Senate filibuster. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a chief sponsor of the voting rights legislation, tells me she supports killing the filibuster to pass this legislation. “I would get rid of the filibuster,” Klobuchar says. “I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill....” It’s become clear since the November election that Republicans are doubling down on anti-democratic policies, such as voter suppression and gerrymandering, to consolidate their power at the state level and increase their odds of winning back control of Washington in 2022 and 2024. “Much of what HR 1 is trying to do is restore majority rule in America,” says Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the chief House sponsor of HR 1. “We’ve seen an effort to narrow participation in the political arena through voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, the use of dark money. You put that together and that creates minority rule in America, which producers a lot of anger and frustration. That makes it easier for extreme elements to access the political space without accountability.”