Sarbanes Leads Effort as Sweeping Voting Rights Package Passes U.S. House

March 4, 2021
In The News

The U.S. House passed sweeping voting rights, redistricting, campaign finance and ethics reform, late Wednesday night along party lines in a 220 to 210 vote, but the historic package will face an uphill battle in the Senate as no Republicans currently support the bill. Even though Democrats control Congress and the White House, their slim majority in a 50-50 Senate is not enough to enact into law a massive package that tackles dark money in campaigns, voter suppression and election security that requires 60 votes rather than a simple majority. The push to end or reform the Senate filibuster is growing among Democrats who are aiming to get the package on President Joe Biden’s desk in the hopes that some of those changes can be enacted before midterm and gubernatorial races in 2022. “I’m not optimistic on the Senate side,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the architect of the bill said during a Tuesday press conference, arguing that with the filibuster in place it’s unlikely that 10 Senate Republicans would vote on the bill. However, Sarbanes said he’s optimistic that Senate Democrats can find a way around the filibuster and pass the bill with a simple majority. “I will say that I’m attracted to the argument that you’re hearing increasingly made, which is that when it comes to something as fundamental as restoring majority rule in America, which is, I think, what H.R. 1 is seeking to do, it would be jarring and incongruous to subject that reform to a supermajority requirement,” he said.... The package aims to increase voter turnout by restoring voting rights to those with a felony record, expanding early voting and same-day voter registration, getting rid of ID requirements and requiring states to set up automatic voter registration for eligible voters for federal elections. The Biden administration is supportive of the bill. “In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country, this landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen American democracy,” the administration said in a statement....  Sarbanes also argued that the package would help restore faith in democracy for Americans after baseless conspiracy theories of voter fraud and election irregularities were spread by the former president and many Republicans. Multiple reports from the Department of Justice and FBI found that last year’s elections were secure and there was no evidence of voter fraud. “This is not controversial,” Sarbanes said about the bill. “We’re just trying to create some baseline, universal standards so people can get to the ballot box....” A section of the bill sets up a federal public financing program for people running for Congress, which uses money from criminal and civil penalties and settlements from corporations, corporate officers or tax code violators in the top income brackets, to match small donations.... Sarbanes said this program was included in the bill in the hopes that it allows people from different financial backgrounds to run for office.