House Passes Biggest Voting Rights Bill in Decades

But HR1 may have little hope of passing the Senate
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 4, 2021 5:42 AM CST
House Passes Sweeping Voting Rights Bill
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi nd the Democratic caucus gather to address reporters on HR1, the For the People Act of 2021, at the Capitol, Wednesday, March 3, 2021.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A sweeping voting rights reform bill passed the House in a 220-210 vote Wednesday night, with every Republican and one Democrat voting against. The HR1 "For the People Act," which would bring in new national standards, will be the biggest expansion of federal voting rights since the 1960s if it becomes law, though the odds are against it making it through the Senate, the New York Times reports. A near-identical bill passed the House in 2019 but didn't make it to a vote in the then-GOP-controlled Senate. More:

  • What's in the bill. The dozens of provisions include measures requiring states to offer 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee balloting, along with same-day registration, the AP reports. It aims to eliminate partisan gerrymandering by requiring independent redistricting commissions. The bill also calls for automatic voter registration and the restoration of voting rights to former felons.

  • Campaign finance reform. The bill also aims to bring more transparency to campaign finance, NBC reports. Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, who introduced the bill in 2019 and reintroduced it in January, said Americans had to overcome "a torrent of special-interest dark money just to exercise their right to vote" in the 2020 election. The bill also requires presidents to release their tax returns.
  • "This reminds me of what it must have felt like at Valley Forge." Before the bill's passage, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Republican moves to suppress voting added urgency to proceedings. "Everything is at stake. We must win this race, this fight for this bill," she said, per Politico. "At the same time as we are gathering here to honor our democracy, across the country over 200 bills are being put together, provisions they’re putting forward, to suppress the vote."
  • The Democratic dissenter. The Democrat who voted against the bill was Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, who worried that the redistricting provision could wipe out majority-minority districts in red states, the Washington Post reports.
  • GOP opposition. Republican lawmakers argued that the bill would lead to federal interference in the ability of states to decide how elections are held. "Democrats want to use their razor-thin majority not to pass bills to earn voters’ trust, but to ensure they don’t lose more seats in the next election," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday, per the AP.
  • Senate headwinds. In his CPAC speech, former President Trump described the bill as a "monster" that "cannot be allowed to pass," and there seems little chance of it getting the necessary 10 Republican votes in the Senate, the Times notes. Some Democrats say if the bill does stall in the Senate, it could convince hesitant moderates to support abolishing the filibuster.
  • Policing reform bill passes. With Thursday's House session canceled due to fears of a militia attack on the Capitol, the House also passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police reform act with measures including banning chokeholds, CBS reports. It passed 220-212, with two Democratic lawmakers voting against it. A sole Republican voted in favor but later said he had done so by mistake.
(More voting rights stories.)

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