Are Democrats going to blow it again on voting rights? It sure looks like they could by selling H.R. 1 as the only way to combat new Republican voter suppression.

I have written this oped for the Washington Post (Post Outlook). It begins:

Are Democrats in Congress and their good government allies going to blow it again on voting rights? It sure looks like they could — by portraying the 791-page For the People Act, or H.R. 1, as the only hope to save American democracy from a new wave of Republican voter suppression.

This mammoth bill has little chance of being enacted. But a more pinpointed law, including one restoring a key part of the Voting Rights Act, could make it out of the Senate to guarantee voting rights protections for all in the 2022 and 2024 elections….

But potential unconstitutionality of some provisions is not the main problem with H.R. 1. Instead, the problem is that the bill contains a wish list of progressive proposals that make it unlikely to survive debate in the Senate. In addition to sensible provisions protecting voting rights, the bill also contains controversial rules on campaign financing, including the creation of a public financing program for congressional candidates, new ethics rules for the Supreme Court, and a requirement that most candidates for president and vice president publicly disclose their tax returns.

Not only is H.R. 1 unlikely to survive a filibuster led by Republican senators such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who has directed most of his opposition to the campaign finance aspects of H.R. 1; it is not clear it could even get 50 votes from the Senate’s Democrats and their independent allies. That makes it an unlikely vehicle for convincing Democrats to abandon the filibuster requirement for voting rights bills, as I and others have advocated. Why would Democrats such as Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who say they want to keep the filibuster in place, vote to abolish it for a bill that might not even have majority support?…

In 2006, I and others testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Congress needed to change the coverage formula of the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act because without a change, the Supreme Court could strike the measure down as exceeding congressional power. But Congress and good government groups decided to roll the dice, believing the Supreme Court would never strike down a crown jewel of the civil rights movement. The gamble did not pay off, and Shelby County has made things far worse.

We are at a similar moment now. H.R. 1 is unlikely to make it out of the Senate. It should be swapped out for a measure more directly targeted at the voter suppression to come that could actually be signed by President Biden and upheld in full by the courts.

Holding out for a perfect bill, in the end, will just prevent enactment of a good one. At the moment, it seems more likely that nothing will become law before the 2022 elections than that H.R. 1 will. And then Democrats will look back at yet another missed opportunity to protect voters.


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