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House OKs Rights Bill Over Opposition  03/04 06:30

   House Democrats passed sweeping voting and ethics legislation over unanimous 
Republican opposition, advancing to the Senate what would be the largest 
overhaul of the U.S. election law in at least a generation.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Democrats passed sweeping voting and ethics 
legislation over unanimous Republican opposition, advancing to the Senate what 
would be the largest overhaul of the U.S. election law in at least a generation.

   House Resolution 1, which touches on virtually every aspect of the electoral 
process, was approved Wednesday night on a near party-line 220-210 vote. It 
would restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, strike down 
hurdles to voting and bring transparency to a murky campaign finance system 
that allows wealthy donors to anonymously bankroll political causes.

   The bill is a powerful counterweight to voting rights restrictions advancing 
in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country in the wake of Donald 
Trump's repeated false claims of a stolen 2020 election. Yet it faces an 
uncertain fate in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it has little chance 
of passing without changes to procedural rules that currently allow Republicans 
to block it.

   The stakes in the outcome are monumental, cutting to the foundational idea 
that one person equals one vote, and carrying with it the potential to shape 
election outcomes for years to come. It also offers a test of how hard 
President Joe Biden and his party are willing to fight for their priorities, as 
well as those of their voters.

   This bill "will put a stop at the voter suppression that we're seeing 
debated right now," said Rep. Nikema Williams, a new congresswoman who 
represents the Georgia district that deceased voting rights champion John Lewis 
held for years. "This bill is the 'Good Trouble' he fought for his entire life."

   To Republicans, however, it would give license to unwanted federal 
interference in states' authority to conduct their own elections --- ultimately 
benefiting Democrats through higher turnout, most notably among minorities.

   "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 from the House floor Tuesday.

   The measure has been a priority for Democrats since they won their House 
majority in 2018. But it has taken on added urgency in the wake of Trump's 
false claims, which incited the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol in January.

   Courts and even Trump's last attorney general, William Barr, found his 
claims about the election to be without merit. But, spurred on by those lies, 
state lawmakers across the U.S. have filed more than 200 bills in 43 states 
that would limit ballot access, according to a tally kept by the Brennan Center 
for Justice at New York University.

   In Iowa, the legislature voted to cut absentee and in-person early voting, 
while preventing local elections officials from setting up additional locations 
to make early voting easier. In Georgia, the House on Monday voted for 
legislation  requiring identification to vote by mail that would also allow 
counties to cancel early in-person voting on Sundays, when many Black voters 
cast ballots after church.

   On Tuesday, the Supreme Court appeared ready to uphold voting restrictions 
in Arizona, which could make it harder to challenge state election laws in the 
future.

   When asked why proponents sought to uphold the Arizona laws, which limit who 
can turn in absentee ballots and enable ballots to be thrown out if they are 
cast in the wrong precinct, a lawyer for the state's Republican Party was 
stunningly clear.

   "Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats," 
said attorney Michael Carvin. "Politics is a zero-sum game."

   Battle lines are quickly being drawn by outside groups who plan to spend 
millions of dollars on advertising and outreach campaigns.

   Republicans "are not even being coy about it. They are saying the 'quiet 
parts' out loud," said Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, a 
left-leaning group that aims to curtail the influence of corporate money in 
politics. Her organization has launched a $10 million effort supporting the 
bill. "For them, this isn't about protecting our democracy or protecting our 
elections. This is about pure partisan political gain."

   Conservatives, meanwhile, are mobilizing a $5 million pressure campaign, 
urging moderate Senate Democrats to oppose rule changes needed to pass the 
measure.

   "H.R. 1 is not about making elections better," said Ken Cuccinelli, a former 
Trump administration Homeland Security official who is leading the effort. 
"It's about the opposite. It's intended to dirty up elections."

   So what's actually in the bill?

   H.R. 1 would require states to automatically register eligible voters, as 
well as offer same-day registration. It would limit states' ability to purge 
registered voters from their rolls and restore former felons' voting rights. 
Among dozens of other provisions, it would also require states to offer 15 days 
of early voting and allow no-excuse absentee balloting.

   On the cusp of a once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressional district 
boundaries, typically a fiercely partisan affair, the bill would mandate that 
nonpartisan commissions handle the process instead of state legislatures.

   Many Republican opponents in Congress have focused on narrower aspects, like 
the creation of a public financing system for congressional campaigns that 
would be funded through fines and settlement proceeds raised from corporate bad 
actors.

   They've also attacked an effort to revamp the federal government's toothless 
elections cop. That agency, the Federal Election Commission, has been gripped 
by partisan deadlock for years, allowing campaign finance law violators to go 
mostly unchecked.

   Another section that's been a focus of Republican ire would force the 
disclosure of donors to "dark money" political groups, which are a magnet for 
wealthy interests looking to influence the political process while remaining 
anonymous.

   Still, the biggest obstacles lie ahead in the Senate, which is split 50-50 
between Republicans and Democrats.

   On some legislation, it takes only 51 votes to pass, with Vice President 
Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. On a deeply divisive bill like this one, they 
would need 60 votes under the Senate's rules to overcome a Republican 
filibuster --- a tally they are unlikely to reach.

   Some Democrats have discussed options like lowering the threshold to break a 
filibuster, or creating a workaround that would allow priority legislation, 
including a separate John Lewis Voting Rights bill, to be exempt. Biden has 
been cool to filibuster reforms and Democratic congressional aides say the 
conversations are fluid but underway.

   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not committed to a time frame but 
vowed "to figure out the best way to get big, bold action on a whole lot of 
fronts."

   He said: "We're not going to be the legislative graveyard. ... People are 
going to be forced to vote on them, yes or no, on a whole lot of very important 
and serious issues."




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