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What voting rights provisions might Republicans support?

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/19/2021 Amber Phillips
People vote in the 2020 elections in Milwaukee. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post) © Joshua Lott/The Washington Post People vote in the 2020 elections in Milwaukee. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

If there is one piece of legislation that could precipitate the end of the filibuster, it might be a voting rights bill that Democrats are feverishly trying to get passed, before some fear it’s too late to save Democrats’ congressional majorities.

Senate Democrats are going to bring up a voting rights bill this week that has the support of all 50 Democrats but will almost certainly get blocked by a Republican filibuster. Reports The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis, “No Republican has emerged as even being curious about supporting new federal voting legislation of the breadth that Democrats are contemplating.”

But Republicans haven’t always been opposed to shoring up voting rights, and this bill contains provisions that are designed to appeal to them, like allowing voter ID laws. So while a vote this week is likely to fail, any voting change that is going to get Republican votes in the future is going to need to take something into account.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.), a co-sponsor of this bill, is adamantly opposed to ending the filibuster, though some Democrats hope his position could be softened after Republicans vote down his bill. If Manchin were to soften his stance, this might force Republicans, w want to preserve the filibuster, to soften their opposition to the voting rights.

This raises the question: Is there anything in this legislation that Republicans might support, based on their past positions? Let’s go through the highlights of the legislation.

Federal standards for key aspects on voting

When you register your car at your DMV, you’d automatically get signed up to vote. And you’d have access to sign up to vote online. And when it’s time to vote, you could vote at least two weeks early. (Early voting varies widely across states; in some states, there isn’t any.)

Would any Republicans support this? Don’t count on it. Nineteen states have automatic voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Almost all of them are Democratic-controlled. And while these proposals are broadly popular with Americans, Republican voters have started to sour on them in recent years. In 2018, 49 percent of Republicans supported automatic voter registration, finds the Pew Research Center. In 2021, just 38 percent of Republicans do.

Early voting is slightly less controversial. But here’s what Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the more moderate Senate Republicans, told DeBonis about a federal law to expand early voting: “I represent a state with one of the highest turnouts in the country consistently, and yet we don’t have early voting, so I don’t see why the federal government should impose rules on a state and preempt state laws for a state that’s doing a great job.”

Make Election Day a holiday

This is self-explanatory. The bill would also allow people to register to vote on Election Day.

Would any Republicans support this? The most powerful Republican in Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), says no way. He argues that because making this a holiday would provide federal workers a day off to vote, it’s “a power grab.”

Left unsaid, however, is that the federal government only employs 2.1 million civilian workers nationwide. And while those who work hourly schedules and thus can’t take time off to vote also tend to be lower-income workers who lean Democratic, a federal holiday is not universal, so companies won’t necessarily have to provide the day off.

Federal standards for voting by mail

This bill would let everyone request a mail-in ballot and require a minimum amount of drop boxes to drop it off once its filled out.

Would any Republicans support this? Probably not after Donald Trump made a big deal during the 2020 election about states expanding mail-in voting during a pandemic. Trump tried to raise doubts about a new way of voting for most Americans to question the integrity of the vote. Despite no evidence of widespread fraud, mail-in voting and drop boxes have become policies that Republicans in some states Trump lost are actively trying to curb.

But before the 2020 election, a number of states and localities had mail-in voting that elected both Democrats and Republicans, and very few if any Senate Republicans raised any objections. (Studies have found no noticeable boost for Democrats when mail voting is expanded.)

Federal standard for voter ID laws

Requiring identification to vote has long been anathema to Democrats and voting-rights advocates, who argue the extra step to voting disenfranchises minorities, students and seniors. But this provision is part of a compromise driven by Manchin to try to reach out to Republicans. Manchin originally suggested mandating voter IDs nationwide; this bill significantly waters that down by allowing voter ID laws and requiring states to accept a broad range of documents for it.

Would any Republicans support this? This is probably the most Republican-friendly provision in the bill. Republicans across the country have long maintained that requiring identification to vote makes selection safer, despite no evidence of widespread fraud in the first place to necessitate some of the stricter ID laws. According to the NCSL, 35 states have voter ID laws.

But Republicans could reasonably view this part of the bill as a set of restrictions on voter ID laws that Republican-led states put into place. At least seven states only allow a photo ID and offer no exceptions if you don’t have one; this bill would require those states to allow more forms of identification.

End partisan gerrymandering

A key driver of Democrats’ voting-rights push is to end the practice of slicing and dicing congressional districts so only one party can win them, a process known as gerrymandering. Democrats are so often on the losing side of gerrymandering because Republicans control a majority of state legislatures. So, Democrats’ dream would be to require all states to appoint an independent commission to draw the maps. This bill would still give state legislatures the authority to set and draw maps, but it would set up specific criteria for how they draw electoral lines and make it easier for opponents to sue in court.

Would any Republicans support this? Absolutely not. You won’t hear too many Republican lawmakers say this publicly, but while both sides gerrymander, redistricting has gone remarkably well for Republicans over the past decade. In the last redistricting cycle — in 2010 — and again this year, they have been in control of mapmaking processes in key states that determine control of the House of Representatives and state legislatures for the next decade. Why would they give that up?

Bulwarks against states trying to subvert election results

A disturbing trend in nearly a dozen Republican-controlled states is legislation to weaken the power of election officials to count and certify results and to give some of that power to state lawmakers. In his effort to overturn his election loss, Trump urged state lawmakers to take matters into their own hands. This bill would create federal protections to try to prevent that, principally by making it difficult for politicians to remove a local election official.

Would any Republicans support this? While good-governance and election experts warn about “the erosion of democracy” through bills like these, Senate Republicans aren’t speaking out about what’s happening in the states. Even Senate Republicans who were publicly very uncomfortable with Trump and his allies’ attempts to overturn the 2020 election have not felt spurred to action to stop laws born of Trump’s effort to undermine the election. Their argument is that the federal government shouldn’t have its hand in how individual states run federal elections. (Even though Congress does constitutionally have the right to chime in.)


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