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Sweeping voting rights package could curb state pushes to restrict voting

The House passed sweeping voting rights, redistricting, campaign finance and ethics reform, late Wednesday night along party lines in a 220 to 210 vote, but the historic package will face an uphill battle in the Senate as no Republicans currently support the bill.

Even though Democrats control Congress and the White House, their slim majority in a 50-50 Senate is not enough to enact into law a massive package that tackles dark money in campaigns, voter suppression and election security that requires 60 votes rather than a simple majority. The push to end or reform the Senate filibuster is growing among Democrats who are aiming to get the package on President Joe Biden’s desk in the hopes that some of those changes can be enacted before midterm and gubernatorial races in 2022.

“I’m not optimistic on the Senate side,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the architect of the bill said during a Tuesday press conference. “We built this piece of legislation over a number of years but the urgency for it in this moment could not be greater.”

Republicans have launched attacks on the nearly 800 page legislative package, arguing that the federal government is overreaching by mandating how states carry out elections and that the country needs strict voter identification laws.

During the House floor debate, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) said that the bill compromises the rights of states to make their own voting laws.

“This bill will weaken what many states are doing to improve election security,” he said.

The package aims to increase voter turnout by restoring voting rights to those with a felony record, expanding early voting and same-day voter registration, getting rid of ID requirements and requiring states to set up automatic voter registration for eligible voters for federal elections. The Biden administration is supportive of the bill.

“In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country, this landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen American democracy,” the administration said in a statement.

With historic levels of voting in the 2020 presidential election, many Republican controlled state legislatures have introduced strict voter ID laws, a trend that concerns Democrats.

“Everything is at stake,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) said during a Wednesday press conference ahead of the vote on the bill.

There are currently more than 33 states that have introduced 165 bills to tighten voting requirements, according to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. The center also found that 37 states have “introduced, pre-filed or carried over 541 bills” that would expand voting rights.

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