ByKendall Karson andMeg Cunningham
H.R. 1, known as the For the People Act, seeks to abolish hurdles to voting, reform the role of money in politics and tighten federal ethics rules. Among the key tenets of the bill to overhaul the nation’s election system: allowing for no-excuse mail voting, at least 15 days of early voting, automatic voter registration and restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences.
Democrats’ comprehensive bill passed the House — for the second time — nearly along party lines earlier this month and was introduced in the Senate this week. But it faces steep opposition from the GOP over its potential implications for future elections, including the 2022 midterms, with some Republicans openly fretting that broader access to voting will harm the party’s chances.MORE: House Democrats pass election reforms as GOP moves to change voting laws
For Republicans, H.R. 1 represents a Democratic “power grab” that could tilt elections in their favor for years to come, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., put it. One Arizona state lawmaker called it “anti-Republican.”
“H.R. 1 is an attempt to use the Democrats’ slim majority to unlevel the playing field and take away the rights of roughly half of the voters in the country,” said Mark Weaver, a GOP consultant based in Ohio and an election law attorney.
Other Republicans condemn the bill as a naked federal overreach of states’ rights, saying the legislation will usurp the decentralized electoral system in favor of a nationalized, one-size-fits-all approach.
And some Republican lawmakers, officials and strategists go even further, signaling the GOP’s opposition to such extensive electoral reforms is based on the fear it will cause them to lose elections.
“If the Democrats pass H.R. 1, it’s going to be absolutely devastating for Republicans in this country,” said Jay Williams, a Republican strategist in Georgia, a state seeing one of the most aggressive campaigns to restrict voting. “They’re just going to basically just shaft so many Republicans in places where they would actually have opportunities to pick up.”
In Arizona, another battleground seeing an onslaught of election-related legislative battles, state Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican, told CNN, “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn’t be voting.”
The measure comes as many Republican state lawmakers, some of whom peddled Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread fraud, are now leaning into what they cast as a lack of confidence in the democratic process to justify their election-related offensive. Republican state lawmakers across 43 states have advanced at least 250 bills so far aimed at limiting absentee and early voting and implementing stricter voter ID laws, among other provisions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.MORE: Advocates warn GOP bills in Ga., Ariz. could restrict voter access
The debate over H.R. 1 reflects the broader reckoning within the GOP over how to win elections in the post-Trump era, when the most significant motivator for both sides is no longer on the ballot. With both history and conventional wisdom pointing to an advantage for the out-of-power party in midterms, some Republicans are convinced H.R. 1 could make a difference.
“I think stopping [H.R. 1] is more relative to Republican success in the future than Donald Trump,” Williams said, as the former president remains the most influential Republican in the party. “The ramifications of passing legislation like that would be very difficult for Republicans to win a majority status after that.”
But Republican fears don’t necessarily permeate in states where — even with more people voting — they found success in 2020, such as North Carolina, Ohio and Kentucky.
“I think it’s a mistake for Republicans to believe that under any particular voting model they can’t win elections. I think that’s wrong and absurd, but it’s the same error the Democrats are making trying to push H.R. 1,” said Michael Adams, Kentucky’s Republican secretary of state, before adding that in the last election, high turnout resulted in more registered Republicans participating than Democrats for the first time in the state’s history.
Democrats, for their part, point to the wholesale Republican push to curb voting rights as the impetus for more urgently pressing ahead on H.R. 1, which could serve as a backstop to thwart the state-level clamp down on voting.
President Joe Biden made clear in a statement that the bill’s reforms were “urgently needed,” adding that he looks “forward to signing it into law after it has passed through the legislative process.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., underlined the string of attacks from Republicans on the electoral system in his defense of the Senate’s companion bill.
“If one political party believes ‘heads we win, tails you cheated,’ if one political party believes that when you lose an election, the answer isn’t to win more votes, but rather to try to prevent the other side from voting, then we have serious and existential threats to our democracy on our hands,” Schumer said Wednesday. “That’s why we need S.1. so badly.”MORE: ‘A direct response’: How Trump’s 2020 loss is dictating the future of elections in battleground states
The proposal faces a tricky path forward to overcome the 60-vote threshold in the evenly divided Senate unless Democrats reform the filibuster.
Biden said in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday that he isn’t opposed to looking at a return to the “talking filibuster,” which would require opposing senators to ceaselessly speak on the Senate floor until the bill is dropped or proponents have the votes.
Schumer made clear during a press conference Wednesday that Democrats will “decide the appropriate action to take” on the bill since “failure is not an option.”