“A Bill Destined to Fail May Now Spawn More Plausible Options”

Nate Cohn in the NYT:

The demise of the For the People Act — the far-reaching voting rights bill that Republicans blocked in the Senate on Tuesday — will come as a crushing blow to progressives and reformers, who have portrayed the law as an essential tool for saving democracy.

But it was a flawed bill that had little chance of testing the limits of what if anything is still possible in Washington. Voting rights activists and Democratic lawmakers may even find that the collapse of this law opens up more plausible, if still highly unlikely, paths to reform.

The law, known as H.R. 1 or S. 1, was full of hot-button measures — from public financing of elections to national mail voting — that were only tangentially related to safeguarding democracy, and all but ensured its failure in the Senate. Its supporters insisted the law should set the floor for voting rights; in truth, it set the floor at the ceiling, by guaranteeing a level of voting access that would be difficult to surpass.

At the same time, reformers did not add provisions to tackle the most insidious and serious threat to democracy: election subversion, where partisan election officials might use their powers to overturn electoral outcomes.

Instead, it focused on the serious but less urgent issues that animated reformers at the time the bill was first proposed in 2019: allegations of corruption in the Trump administration, the rise of so-called dark money in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, or the spate of voter identification laws passed in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s election victories.

Even a cursory look at the effort by former President Donald J. Trump to subvert the 2020 election revealed a number of vulnerabilities in the electoral system, from the risk that a partisan election administrator might simply refuse to certify an unfavorable election result to the possibility that a vice president might choose not to count a certified electoral slate. None of those vulnerabilities were addressed….

A final avenue is an even narrower bill, comprising only provisions that attract bipartisan support. It remains to be seen whether even a single idea falls into this category. But many of the hypothesized proposals for addressing election subversion might have some chance to find Republican support, like reforms to the rules for counting electoral votes, and funding for election administration.

Other potential areas of agreement are a requirement for paper ballots; ballot chain-of-custody requirements; standards for certification of federal elections and establishing voter eligibility; and clarifying whether and when judges or local officials can defy a state legislature.

None of these proposals necessarily advantage either political party. All would have a chance to avoid the central, politicized debate over voter suppression and voting rights.

Realistically, even the most innocuous proposals would have a challenging path to passage. The window for bipartisan cooperation on these issues may have closed several months ago, as memories of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters were supplanted by politically charged fights over voting rights and voter suppression. Republicans have few incentives to support a bill, even if watered down considerably.

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