How Democrats Can Revive Their Doomed Voting Law
The Law for the People, a democracy reform bill that Democrats believe would expand access to the vote, saw a glimpse of its fate on Tuesday. The 900-page bill, dealing with everything from electoral administration to congressional ethics, was the subject of a full day of debate in a Senate committee with nearly 100 proposed amendments.
A total of 10 passed, while the rest ignited following overwhelmingly partisan votes. Its future in the Senate does not look better: it will be forced to be considered, debated for hours and will always fail.
Rather than bickering over next steps or surrendering, however, Democrats have a more realistic option that would solve the funding need of election administrators and improve the health of elections in a way that truly is. for the people.
How? ‘Or’ What? By putting election funds in their infrastructure package.
The need for this alternative strategy is obvious. S1, the Senate version of HR1, faces a dark path: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) can now force the bill to the ground as part of his power-sharing deal. power with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Once there, they will have an easier time amending the bill in a way that failed in committee, as Vice President Kamala Harris can sever ties. But there is no guarantee that Harris will be able to fill this role.
There aren’t 50 Democrats on board with this bill, and Joe Manchin (D-WV) – the most powerful man in the Senate – is, staff tell me, carrying water for a small handful of other Democrats who don’t. want this bill passed, but keep silent for fear of being punished by the leadership. As the Democratic Party tries to sell this bill backed by a united front, this is clearly not the case. And even if it does, they’ll still need 10 Republicans or filibuster reform, which seems unlikely.
Given Manchin’s reservations, expressed at a meeting on Thursday and reported by ABC News, this bill is likely to fall short at all. (Manchin is much more likely to support a bloated version of the John Lewis Bill, which fails to give significant funding to election administrators.)
The law for the people may be dead on arrival, but election financing should not be. As Republicans attack the infrastructure package, wondering what “infrastructure” really means anyway, no one could reasonably argue that elections are not infrastructure – federal politics designates it, along with electricity and electricity. water, as “essential infrastructure”.
This idea was originally pioneered by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which in 2020 carried out the largest program of private grants to election officials in US history.
Unlike the People’s Law, this plan was drafted in direct coordination with hundreds of bipartisan election officials who for years have been calling for consistent federal funding. Channeling funds through the infrastructure plan gives Congress a real ability to equip local officials to give voters the elections they deserve.
“We have heard that strong and consistent funding is the most critical need of election departments today, and the lack of adequate and predictable funding is perhaps the biggest hurdle that election officials face in making this happen. their best, ”they wrote in a statement announcing the initiative.
Indeed, Congress has funded elections as a secondary thought for years, injecting millions of dollars in response to crises: after Chad’s pending debacle in 2000, after the cybersecurity failures of 2016, and during the pandemic of 2020. strive to systematically fund election offices so that they can plan ahead for necessary improvements.
Predictable cash flow to local officials – even with clear parameters for political priorities – would allow states like Louisiana, which currently needs machines, to buy them. But it would also allow states like Georgia, which has just invested millions in new machines, to put money in the bank when they need to upgrade their machines in eight to ten years.
Democrats are serious about their desire for automatic voter registration, updating machines, and upgrading physical and digital security. All of these can be provided for in the Infrastructure Bill, providing specific funding for specific plans.
“Elections are clearly an infrastructure. In order for our elections to improve, they need funds to plan for the future. That would allow that.“
– Tiana Epps-Johnson
This process will not allow Democrats to be so prescriptive in shaping their policies, it’s true, but it will become much easier to engage Republicans – many of whom already live and represent states with procedural procedures. automatic voter registration or more stringent security protocols. The money could be specifically allocated to additional polling stations, or to get states to adopt paper machines and start doing rigorous audits – all with at least bipartisan consensus.
The fact that the elections were left out of the infrastructure package initially, for many local election officials, is a head scratch.
“Elections are clearly an infrastructure,” Tiana Epps-Johnson, who heads the CTCL, told me. “For our elections to improve, they need funds to plan for the future. This would allow that. “
In contrast, the For the People Act, as evidenced by the debacle of committee markup, will not be.
Even internally, Democratic staff members of the various drafting committees of the bill have acknowledged that it started out as a messaging bill when they were in the minority. It was introduced in 2019 as a priority, but since Democrats did not yet hold a majority in the Senate, it was only meant to send a signal.
He was presented to the House again as HR 1 in 2021 to demonstrate the focus on the right to vote. The bill then made its way to the newly Democratic-controlled Senate, with almost none of the changes demanded by election officials, who, as I have previously reported, had deep reservations about how they could achieve these reforms. realistically. Fear not, the Democrats said they would work on the changes in committee.
During the committee’s scavenging session, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) presented a director’s amendment dealing with the feasibility of the massive electoral policy changes in the bill. These adjustments to ease deadlines and add waivers to mandates were welcomed by election administrators, who saw them as the first step in a good faith effort to make the bill enforceable.
“I don’t think they wanted to pass a bill that would have unintended consequences, but a bill ensuring that all eligible voters have the same opportunity to participate successfully.“
– Former local civil servant
“They really listened to the concerns of election officials,” said a former local official, now active in these negotiations. “I don’t think they wanted to pass a bill that would have unintended consequences, but a bill ensuring that all eligible voters have the same opportunity to participate successfully.”
But Klobuchar’s amendment failed, again dashing their hopes. Schumer and McConnell showed up at this markup session, a rare event for Senate leaders, demonstrating how important both sides believe the issue is. But while the Republicans present themselves as a strong bulwark against the bill, the Democrats argue among themselves over the strategy and content of the bill.
If Democrats can’t get a Basic Amendment that addresses fundamental feasibility concerns through a committee they control, it appears their success on the ground isn’t as high as they might claim in public statements. It’s a difficult strategy for local election officials to digest: Democrats have pinned all their hopes for the right to vote on a single bill that their own party cannot reach consensus on, and the lack of funding. available to election officials will decrease. with this ship.
Meanwhile, John Lewis’s voting rights law – which Manchin has signaled he supports and may well get a small slice of Republican membership – has been ignored.
Including elections – an obviously critical piece of US infrastructure – in the infrastructure package gives interested Democrats and Republicans a clear opportunity to at least begin to address the issues plaguing our system, even if they cannot. solve them all at the same time.