Democrats see the HR 1, “For the People Act” as a landmark legislative achievement, but their tenuous coalition of moderates and progressives, necessary to pass the massive elections overhaul through the Senate, is slowly falling apart, according to a new report from the New York Times, and may spell disaster for the bill.
The bill, which passed the House on a purely partisan vote, would make sweeping changes to federal elections, forcing states to offer automatic and same-day voter registration and online voter registration. It would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to “pre-register” to vote, would eliminate the practice of purging voter rolls of inactive and out-of-state voters, and would restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison term.
It would also do away with so-called “dark money,” force states to create independent commissions to outline Congressional districts, would force public financing for campaigns, compel those running for president to make public their income tax returns, demand consideration for D.C. statehood, and update the Federal Election Commission with additional members, among other notable reforms.
Democrats maintain that the massive reform bill is necessary to modernize elections, particularly in light of a sharp increase in mail-in voting in 2020 but Republicans have cautioned that the bill puts power into the hands of Democrats and thwarts state efforts at reducing and eliminating vote fraud.
Democrats, as with most major pieces of legislation, need complete compliance from their Senate caucus in order to even come close to passing election reform. But according to the New York Times, they may be far from having a cohesive coalition, and they may be “splintering” even further behind the scenes.
“President Biden and leading Democrats have pledged to make the elections overhaul a top priority, even contemplating a bid to upend bedrock Senate rules if necessary to push it through over Republican objections,” the outlet reported Thursday. “But they are contending with an undercurrent of reservations in their ranks over how aggressively to try to revamp the nation’s elections and whether, in their zeal to beat back new Republican ballot restrictions moving through the states, their proposed solution might backfire, sowing voting confusion and new political challenge.”
Typically, that means that moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is stalling the bill, preventing Democrats from getting close to the 50 votes needed to force the bill through (provided they also eliminate the Senate filibuster — another matter altogether). This time, though, the rift goes deeper.
“Behind the scenes, two election lawyers close to the White House and congressional Democrats said Mr. Manchin was not the only one on their side with reservations about the measure,” the Times said. “They insisted on anonymity to discuss the concerns because few Democrats want to concede that there are cracks in the coalition backing the measure or incur the wrath of the legion of liberal advocacy groups that have made its enactment their top priority.”
Even the Congressional Black Caucus is having a hard time with the bill, despite the bill being specifically aimed at preserving minority voting rights.
“Black House members, for instance, are deeply uneasy over the bill’s shift to independent redistricting commissions, which they fear could cost them seats if majority-minority districts are broken up, particularly in the South. Before the bill passed the House, its authors spent significant time reassuring members of the Congressional Black Caucus that there were adequate protections in place to preserve their districts. But a prominent committee chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, remained so concerned that he voted against the bill, despite having sponsored it,” the Times noted.
The White House may be forced to back a plan to split pieces off the mega-bill in the hopes that some parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda can pass.
The Senate will formally consider the bill later this month.