WASHINGTON - House Democrats’ elections and ethics overhaul is set to die a swift death in the U.S. Senate, but expect the sweeping legislation to have new life on the campaign trail in Georgia.
Democrats are eager to campaign on many of the bill’s core issues – including automatic voter registration, expanded early voting and public financing of elections – while GOP-aligned groups are already counter-messaging that it amounts to an expensive federal power grab.
The For the People Act would make far-reaching changes to the way states administer federal elections, tackling many of the issues that were at the forefront of last year’s Georgia governor’s race. It would prevent officials from conducting mass voter registration cancellations, bar senior state election officials from participating in federal campaigns and set aside money for states to bolster their election infrastructure. The House passed the bill on strictly party lines on Friday, 234 to 193.
Democrats said the measure would expand access to the ballot box and limit the reach of special interests in federal politics.
“We’re prepared to open up the political process and let all of the people come in,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, an alum of the civil rights movement who was among the legislation’s most prominent supporters. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Republicans warned it would take power away from the states and principally benefit Democrats.
"For 200-plus years, states have been entrusted to make sure that our election system is customized and tailored to make sure that it’s easy access for everyone to get to the poll and cast a vote,” U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, told the Georgia Senate earlier this week. "I trust you much more than I trust federal bureaucrats to ensure we have an equitable voting system."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was one of the bill’s loudest GOP critics. He dubbed the measure the “Democrat Politician Protection Act” and promised it would die at the upper chamber’s doorstep.
GOP groups have already begun using the legislation on the campaign trail in Georgia. The National Republican Congressional Committee highlighted a Bloomberg report that estimated candidates could be eligible for nearly $5 million in taxpayer money under a provision that would allow for the public financing of congressional races.
“By voting to funnel public funds to her campaign, (U.S. Rep. Lucy) McBath's proven she’s right at home in the swamp,” said NRCC Spokesperson Camille Gallo.
McBath, who often discussed her parents’ role in the civil rights movement on the campaign trail, called the bill a “historic democracy reform package.”
“I was proud to vote yes on (the bill) to restore Americans’ faith in government and ensure that our government and electoral system is working for the people, not special interests,” the freshman Democrat said Friday.
House Democrats plan to make voting rights a key focus in the months ahead.
Party leaders recently introduced legislation to restore portions of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. And the leaders of the House Oversight Committee recently sent letters to Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger seeking documents about alleged voting irregularities in Georgia during the 2018 election.