Government

Partisan Debate Over Voting Rights

Reading Time: 5 Minutes

65% of Americans believe that the 2020 election was free and fair, and only 32% of Republicans believe that the election was fair. As a result of many Americans not trusting the electoral system, the nature of how the United States runs elections is a pressing issue in Congress. Is there a way to improve confidence in our electoral system, and if so, does expanding the vote ensure this need for increased integrity? House and Senate Democrats are currently advocating for the largest expansion of voting rights since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference with other House Democrats to discuss the new voting rights bill, or the For the People Act. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Key Questions to Consider:

  1. What expansions of the vote do Democrats want to see, and who will this effect? 
  2. What is the pushback from Republicans? 
  3. What results should you expect to see? 
  1. What are the voting rights that Democrats want to see expanded?

Back in 2019, the Democrats tried passing their first bill to expand voting rights, known as the For the People Act (H.R.1.). At the time, this proposed legislation was a long-shot to say the least, as Republicans had a hold of the Presidency and the Senate. Now, however, with the Democratic party having control of the House, Senate, and the White House, the opportunity to try and pass a voting rights bill has arrived.
The House passed a Bill in early March that is the greatest expansion of voting rights since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices like literacy test requirements. The primary objective of this piece of legislation is to broaden democracy by making voting easier and more accessible for all citizens. There are five main pieces to this bill that Democrats want to see enacted. 

  1. Simplify the voter registration process. Voters would have the ability to register, de-register, and declare party affiliations online — which a majority of states do allow. In addition, early voting would also be expanded to 15 days for 10 hours a day, and one drop-box would be required per every 20,000 persons at an accessible location. Lastly, mail-in ballots would be tracked electronically, so voters would be notified when their vote arrives and is counted. 
  2. Create a national set of terms for ballot access. As of now, some states have easier voter registration processes than others. Consequently, in some states marginalized populations have better access to voting than in other states. This legislation would require all states to start their federal elections with identical mandates to promote equality among the states. (This can be ignored for state and local elections). 
  3. Put an end to partisan gerrymandering. Congressional districts would have to be drawn by non-political commissions, instead of state legislatures. Thus, removing any partisan incentive to draw obscurely oriented districts. 
  4. Place more restrictions on campaign funding and advertising. This would limit foregn contributions in American elections by forcing committees to report foreign contacts in order to prevent influence from other nations, like Russia in the 2016 election. This bill would also place restrictions on corporations –like having to get large donations authorized by shareholders– and the political influence they hold on certain candidates or parties. In terms of advertisements, this bill would require political ads to disclose their sponsors, as well as make online companies publicly record advertising buyers. 
  5. Actively combat the voting restrictions Republicans put into place. In an attempt to reduce potential voter fraud, voter ID acts have been enacted by Republicans in most states. This bill would revoke these laws, and require a voter affidavit and not an ID. This bill would also make it necessary to give voters a week in advance if their voting locations are altered; it is shown that changing or cancelling voting locations decreases voter turnout. Lastly, voting rights would be given to felons who have completed their sentences in jail, which is a law some states have already passed. 
Waiting to cast ballots in Marietta, Ga., in December, during early voting for the state’s Senate runoff elections. (Audra Melton /The New York Times)

2: What have Republican lawmakers done to combat this push? 

Georgia has been the birthplace of the voting rights pushback. Georgia’s Republican controlled legislature passed a new set of voting restrictions that limits drop boxes, creates more challenges for absentee voting, and prohibits giving voters water and snacks while they wait in line to vote. President Biden himself has called Georgia’s new voting restrictions “un-American,” as it goes directly against what the House’s bill sought to accomplish: equal access to the vote for all Americans. This new law is only one of 250 voting restriction laws, and Georgia is only one of forty-three states that have passed this type of legislation (according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law). Some states, like Florida, are seeking to ban drop boxes and restrict who can collect ballots. In Arizona, Republican lawmakers attempted to remove voters from the list if they skip two consecutive election cycles, which would roughly correlate to almost 100,000 voters. Other states, like Texas and Tennessee, have passed laws making it more difficult to register to vote, which restricts ballot access from minority and/or impoverished Americans. These groups, historically speaking, tend to vote more Democratic therefore limiting their vote will usually hurt the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party. 

Gov. Bryan Kemp of Georgia signed the voting bill into law hours after it was passed on March 25th.(@GovKemp, via Reuters/The New York Times)

3: What should you expect to see? 

For many years following the civil rights movement, voting rights had bipartisan support. However, recently the parties’ viewpoints have drastically diverged. The issue of voting rights is extremely partisan, and neither side has shown any sign of cooperation. Democrats see passing voter restriction laws as anti-democratic, and therefore increasing citizens’ access to the vote supports the country’s foundational principle of democracy. On the other hand, Republicans believe that this act is a power grab by the Democrats in effort to unfairly tip the votes in their direction. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said the Voting Rights Advancement Act is “an attempt by one party to write the rule of our political system,”. Conversely, Democratic Senator Patty Murray refers to expanding voting rights as “essential to making sure our democracy stays a democracy.”

Expanding the vote is predicted to be beneficial to both parties. For Democrats, increasing minority turnout tends to help their vote; and for Republicans, increasing poorer, rural voter turnout tends to help their vote. But until the parties can find a sliver of common ground on this issue, it does not seem like this bill will have enough support in the Senate to pass the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to end. 

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, at the hearing discussing the voting rights bill. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)

TL;DR

  • House and Senate Democrats are seeking to pass a momentous voting rights bill.
  • The For the People Act would make voting registration easier, create a national set of terms for ballot access in federal elections, and ban partisan gerrymandering. 
  • Republicans have passed many voter restriction laws, and most recently, Georgia’s G.O.P. led legislature passed a bill that limits drop boxes, creates more obstacles for absentee voters, and prohibits giving voters water and snacks while they wait in line to vote.
  • The topic of voting rights and the bills H.R.1. and S.1. are highly partisan issues, and neither side seems to be seeking reconciliation. 

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/24/us/politics/democrats-voting-rights.html?searchResultPosition=7

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/us/politics/voting-rights-laws-georgia.html?searchResultPosition=5

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/inflection-point-congress-prepares-battle-over-massive-voting-rights-bill-n1262172

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/us/politics/voting-rights-law.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage

https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-arizona-phoenix-voting-rights-elections-7840a9f72ff5b4466fe376d7864b14f8

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