Photo: ACLU of Virginia

The House will be voting this week on HR 1, the "For the People Act," which would establish fair national standards for voting and ensure that people who are eligible to vote actually get their ballots counted. The Brennan Center for Justice calls the bill (and its companion, HR 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act) "the greatest civil rights bill since the civil rights movement itself," and that's not the least bit hyperbolic. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Maryland), would put the kibosh on a lot of voter suppression measures that Republicans are very fond of (Hello, Georgia!), so it should be no surprise that Republicans are howling about how unfair it would be. Fairness would keep them from rigging the vote in their favor, so obviously that's its own kind of election rigging.

This incarnation of the bill is largely the same as the version House Democrats passed nearly a year ago, and which, like that guy in the Paul Simon song who believed he had supernatural powers, slammed into a brick wall in the Republican-controlled Senate. This time around, with Democrats in control, the bill will at least get a hearing before Republicans murder it through the filibuster, although some starry-eyed optimists argue that move might actually help build support for killing off the filibuster as one more Jim Crow relic that needs to be eliminated, like poll taxes and certain old Dr. Seuss books.


HR 1 includes a number of provisions that would make the franchise more widely available and ensure all votes count:

  • National automatic voter registration of all citizens over 18 (with an option for people to opt out)
  • Same-day registration on Election Day
  • A guarantee that people who have no photo ID can still cast a ballot with a sworn statement of their identity
  • A minimum of two weeks of early voting
  • Restoration of felons' voting rights after they've completed their sentences
  • An end to aggressive vote purges, particularly that "purge by postcard" scheme several states use where they remove people from the rolls for not returning a postcard what looks like junk mail
  • Creating standardized absentee voting procedures, including basic ground rules on how people vote by mail and for absentee ballot drop-offs.
By making sure people have multiple options to vote, the bill seeks to make sure that voting in person can be done in 30 minutes or less, because hours-long lines are kind of a deterrent to casting a ballot.

In addition to the mechanics of voting, HR 1 also would require that congressional district lines be drawn by independent commissions instead of by state legislatures, which would make partisan gerrymandering far less likely — at least, following the 2030 Census, assuming the country is still around. As Ron Brownstein writes at The Atlantic, that provision just might be one of the most important curbs on Republicans' plans to enshrine permanent a permanent GOP majority.

How important is preventing partisan gerrymandering? Even CNN's Chris Goddamn Cillizza recognizes it's a problem, although, being Chris Goddamn Cillizza, he frames it as an unfortunate problem perpetrated by both parties. For instance, he notes that congressional elections have become far less competitive over time, but he doesn't mention which party did massive gerrymandering following the 2010 Census:

In 1956, less than 6 in 10 House incumbents won with 60% of the vote or more, according to Vital Statistics on Congress. By 2002, the first election after the 2001 nationwide redistricting, 85% of all House incumbents seeking reelection won with 60% or higher. In 2014 and 2016, that number hovered in the mid-to-high 70s before dipping to just 63% in the tumultuous 2018 midterm elections.

The result, Cillizza claims, is that those safe districts have led to "more and more candidates on the extremes of both parties" being sent to Washington, by which he presumably means "the Squad" and also the entire Republican caucus. But at least Cillizza seems dimly aware that one party really benefits most from the fuckery here:

According to redistricting guru David Wasserman at the Cook Political Report, Republicans will have the final line-drawing say in 188 House seats, while Democrats will be in total control of the lines in just 73 seats. (Another 45 seats will be under divided control between the two parties and 122 will see their lines drawn by independent or bipartisan commissions.)

In addition to the filibuster reform, HR 1 includes measures that would expand public funding of elections and require greater transparency in campaign donations. The companion bill (also passed by the House last year), the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, would restore some key protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013, particularly by requiring the Justice Department "pre-clear" changes in voting processes that would affect communities of color. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down pre-clearance in jurisdictions that had historically discriminated against Black voters, because after all, there's no more racism any more. The new law would restore the pre-clearance requirement, but instead of applying to those historically racist jurisdictions, it would, as the Brennan Center explains, focus on

more modern issues of discrimination. It has a provision that looks at particular practices that have been trouble in the past and sets forth criteria for which those practices are subject to preclearance. It has procedures for states or jurisdictions to show that preclearance does not make sense any more for them. It has additional notice and transparency opportunities. And it sets forth practices for federal observers, so that voters get support from the federal government if there are problems on the ground.

You want to close half the polling stations in the county? You'd better be able to prove that won't reduce minority access to voting, whether you're in Alabama or Wisconsin.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are crying over how unfair the two measures are; at CPAC Sunday, Donald Trump called HR 1 a "disaster" because it would "restrict political speech" (that would be the transparency requirements for political donors), and other bullshit. Automatic voter registration? Oh noes, that would automatically register "every welfare recipient to vote" — as well as everyone else, you see. It's all disingenuous bullshit, but it means virtually no Senate Republican support for either bill. Which is pretty damned frustrating. Now, instead of good ideas being thwarted by Mitch McConnell's refusal to give them a hearing, they'll be thwarted by the archaic filibuster rule that Republicans have turned into a tool to prevent any governance at all.

[HR 1 text / Brennan Center / USA Today / Atlantic / CNN / Roll Call / Brennan Center / Esquire]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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