At an event marking the centenary of the Tulsa massacre on Tuesday, President Joe Biden again offered his support for two voting rights that Democrats are trying to pass in Congress: the For the People Act (known as HR 1 in the House of Representatives and SB 1 in the Senate ) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Crucially, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set a deadline by the end of June to get SB 1 into the Senate.
Both bills aim to increase fair access to polling stations. Both bills also aim to counter widespread attacks on voting rights by Republican lawmakers, which proposed hundreds of bills restricting voting. These bills are now law in a number of states with full Republican control over state government, such as Florida and Georgia.
Given this reality, both the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act have been portrayed as essential to upholding the right to vote, which has been the most attacked in decades. But with the current policy of filibusters and the determined Republican opposition in the Senate, both bills are currently facing a steep rise. What are the differences between the two bills, which elements are actually essential to protecting the right to vote, which elements may be sacrificed if it means a difficult passage in the Senate, and which parts have the best chance of winning key objectors? Democrats will have to try to answer these questions in the coming weeks, and experts are torn as to whether there is room for amendment to both laws and the potential dangers of changing or dumping a bill.
While the John Lewis Voting Right Act provides a small, targeted solution to one aspect of voting rights, the For the People Act represents a far-reaching and largely unprecedented reform of democracy.
The original Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of civil rights law, required states with a history of racial discrimination in their electoral practices to obtain prior approval – or approval from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for DC – before making changes to their electoral laws or regulations practices. The law was designed to prevent racial discrimination by historically poor actors at the height of Jim Crow, and it largely succeeded. In the Shelby County v. Holder from 2013, however, the Supreme Court overruled these preliminary clarification rules in a 5-4 decision based on ideological considerations.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act aims to restore these preclearance provisions and the full scope of the original Voting Rights Act. According to Guy-Uriel Charles, a law professor at Duke University, the main focus of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is on “racial discrimination in voting”. Given that different pieces of Republican electoral legislation have been shown to have different effects, especially on black voters, forcing states to seek their consent before adopting discriminatory measures would be no small feat.
The For the People Act, on the other hand, would go beyond the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to nationalize key electoral practices and reform key elements of the campaign funding system.
The bill consists of four main parts. The first section contains specific provisions designed to protect voters from restrictive Republican electoral laws, such as each state allowing automatic voter registration for federal elections. This section also includes the Disability Voting Rights Act, which would guarantee people with disabilities the right to vote by post, and the Voter Empowerment Act by John Lewis, which would modernize voter registration protocols, among other things. The second section deals with partisan gerrymandering, both banning it and establishing specific rules for redistribution, including requiring states to do so through an independent commission that is equally republican, democratic and independent. The third focuses primarily on fighting the power of money and big corporations in Washington by increasing the transparency of political donations and advertising (by requiring groups that make large donations for political campaigns to disclose their donor lists) and impact Smaller donors are reinforced by matching programs and stricter limits for campaign contributions. Finally, the For the People Act introduces a variety of ethical and electoral security provisions – such as providing funds for states to conduct risk-limiting audits – which would all help protect future elections from the completely unfounded allegations of fraud that characterized the 2020 elections .
Some of the more specific practices outlined in the For the People Act – many of which have already proven successful at the state level – include limiting voter roll-offs, which require both automatic and same-day voter registration, to recovery the voting rights for all previously imprisoned felons who have served their sentence and who require at least two weeks early voting.
These requirements reverse the steps taken by Republican lawmakers to restrict suffrage in battlefield states like Florida, where Jim Crow-esque restrictions imposed by the GOP-controlled legislature have resulted in hundreds of thousands of previously incarcerated felons not being regained despite a change in suffrage With the support of 65 percent of Florida voters in 2018, ex-felons can be exempted.
Only one Republican woman, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has suggested she could support a version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act while opposition to the For the People Act is unified in the GOP conference. At least the Voting Rights Act was not previously a party issue – in 2006, a Republican-controlled Congress and former President George W. Bush extended the original Voting Rights Act (with all its provisions) by 25 years.
While all of the provisions of the For the People Act are designed to protect voting rights, some experts, such as Richard Hasen, professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, believe that a smaller bill – which, in theory, the Democrats would like some of the provisions to remove Tasting Republicans in Congress, or maybe the Democratic Middle Senator Joe Manchin, would be more likely to happen.
“A more precise bill, including one that restores an important part of the suffrage law, could get the Senate to guarantee voting rights for everyone in the 2022 and 2024 elections,” he said in a comment on the Washington Post.
Hasen argues that some of the bill’s provisions, such as the rules on campaign finance reform and public funding, are part of a “wish list of progressive proposals that make it unlikely to survive the Senate debate” and should be thrown overboard in order to the bill more passable. Instead, Hasen believes that Congress should prioritize the reintroduction of the pre-trial clarification of the original voting law, require states to offer online voter registration and at least two weeks early voting (whether by mail or in person) for federal elections, and require that that states have voting machines that produce a sheet of paper that can be used for possible recounts. Another provision that Hasen advocates is the obligation for states to use bipartisan or bipartisan commissions in redistribution in order to prevent bipartisan gerrymandering.
“Ending the scourge of partisanship in redistribution will not only ensure that members of Congress represent the will of the electorate more,” he writes, “it will also help create the conditions in which candidates address the center and less partisanship is driven. “
Rabbit is not alone. Certain political experts have also spoken out in favor of introducing a “thin” law for the people. However, the shrinkage of the bill is unlikely to move enough members of a stubborn Republican conference to overcome a filibuster, others argue, and sacrifice important reforms.
“The Republicans’ Core Strategy” in Congress is to block democracy reform – because the Republicans’ core strategy in the states is to do everything possible to make it difficult for Democrats to vote and count their votes on an equal footing, ”wrote Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig on Thursday.
Ultimately, the passage of both laws will likely come from the willingness of the Democrats to change the filibuster in the Senate.
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With a 50:50 tie broken by Vice President Kamala Harris (who recently took the lead on the issue of voting rights), Democrats will almost certainly need every member of their faction to take such a step towards either bills being passed to support. However, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona and Manchin from West Virginia have repeatedly signaled their opposition to breaking the filibuster and their desire for a bipartisan approach in which no one seems to be able to succeed. Some have suggested that he might advocate a version of the Voting Rights Act that extends preliminary screening to all states, and not just those that have shown a history of discriminatory practices, but as Charles and Lawrence Lessig argued in Slate, has one Approach a serious risk of stalling in court.
“Imagine a law that says: ‘Okay, we will subject all states to a preliminary investigation, whether you are really bad, whether you are perfectly fine, whether you are in the middle, all will be subject to a preliminary investigation.’ “Said Charles,” the likelihood that the court will maintain this type of preliminary investigation is, in my opinion, not extremely high. “
Even in its current state, which only requires preliminary investigation for states that have shown at least 15 voting rights violations in the past 25 years, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is at least somewhat prone to the same court arguments that eviscerate the original voting rights act You in Shelby County.
The For the People Act actually has a more solid legal footing, but as Lessig told me about the likelihood of one going over the other, “I don’t see any difference. Both require passing the filibuster. “
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