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Dem Vote Bill Biggest Changes in Years 03/01 06:18

   As Congress begins debate this week on sweeping voting and ethics 
legislation, Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing: If signed into 
law, it would usher in the biggest overhaul of U.S. elections law in at least a 

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- As Congress begins debate this week on sweeping voting 
and ethics legislation, Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing: If 
signed into law, it would usher in the biggest overhaul of U.S. elections law 
in at least a generation.

   House Resolution 1, Democrats' 791-page bill, would touch virtually every 
aspect of the electoral process --- striking down hurdles to voting erected in 
the name of election security, curbing partisan gerrymandering and curtailing 
the influence of big money in politics.

   Republicans see those very measures as threats that would both limit the 
power of states to conduct elections and ultimately benefit Democrats, notably 
with higher turnout among minority voters.

   The stakes are prodigious, with control of Congress and the fate of 
President Joe Biden's legislative agenda in the balance. But at its core, a 
more foundational principle of American democracy is at play: access to the 

   "This goes above partisan interests. The vote is at the heart of our 
democratic system of government," said Fred Wertheimer, president of the 
nonpartisan good government organization Democracy 21. "That's the 
battleground. And everyone knows it."

   Barriers to voting are as old as the country, but in more recent history 
they have come in the form of voter ID laws and other restrictions that are up 
for debate in statehouses across the country.

   Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who sponsored the bill, said that 
outside of Congress "these aren't controversial reforms." Much of it, he noted, 
was derived from recommendations of a bipartisan commission.

   Yet to many Republicans, it amounts to an unwarranted federal intrusion into 
a process that states should control.

   Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., excoriated the measure during a House hearing 
last week as "800 pages of election mandates and free speech regulations" that 
poses a "threat to democracy" and would "weaken voter confidence" in elections.

   Citing Congress' constitutional authority over federal elections, Democrats 
say national rules are needed to make voting more uniform, accessible and fair. 
The bill would mandate early voting, same-day registration and other 
long-sought changes that Republicans reject.

   It would also require so-called dark money political groups to disclose 
anonymous donors, create reporting requirements for online political ads and 
appropriate nearly $2 billion for election infrastructure upgrades. Future 
presidents would be obligated to disclose their tax returns, which former 
President Donald Trump refused to do.

   Debate over the bill comes at a critical moment, particularly for Democrats.

   Acting on Trump's repeated false claims of a stolen election, dozens of 
Republican-controlled state legislatures are pushing bills that would make it 
more difficult to vote. Democrats argue this would disproportionately hit 
low-income voters, or those of color, who are critical constituencies for their 

   The U.S. is also on the cusp of a once-in-a-decade redrawing of 
congressional districts, a highly partisan affair that is typically controlled 
by state legislatures. With Republicans controlling the majority of statehouses 
the process alone could help the GOP win enough seats to recapture the House.

   Previous debates over voting rights have often been esoteric and complex, 
with much of the debate in Congress focused on whether to restore a 
"preclearance" process in the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court 
invalidated in 2013. For decades, it had required certain states and 
jurisdictions with large minority populations and a history of discrimination 
to get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures.

   But Republicans say that Trump's repeated attacks on the 2020 election have 
electrified his supporters, even as courts and his last attorney general, 
William Barr, found them without merit.

   "This is now a base issue," said Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney 
general and Trump administration official in the Department of Homeland 
Security who is leading a conservative coalition opposed to the bill. 
"Democratic leadership is willing to sacrifice their own members to pass 
radical legislation. They are cannon fodder that Nancy Pelosi doesn't care 

   Democrats say their aim is to make it easier for more people to vote, 
regardless of partisan affiliation. And they counter that Republican objections 
are based more in preserving their own power by hindering minorities from 
voting than a principled opposition.

   "The anti-democratic forces in the Republican Party have focused their 
energy on peddling unwarranted and expensive voter restriction measures," said 
Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost her 2018 Georgia bid to become the first Black 
female governor in U.S. history. "We all have a right to take our seat at the 
table and our place at the ballot box."

   The bill was an object of intense focus at the annual Conservative Political 
Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, over the weekend, a gathering where 
Trump's lies about mass election fraud took center stage.

   In a speech Sunday, Trump branded the bill as "a disaster" and a "monster" 
that "cannot be allowed to pass."

   Meanwhile, CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp told attendees that if they could 
internalize one thing from this year's conference, it was to "do all you can" 
to stop "this unconstitutional power grab" from becoming law.

   "What we saw this election will be what you will see every single election. 
And we have to fight it," Schlapp warned ominously.

   Trump and his allies have made false claims that the 2020 election was 
marred by widespread voter fraud. But dozens of legal challenges they put forth 
were dismissed, including by the Supreme Court.

   Ultimately, though, the biggest obstacle Democrats face in passing the bill 
is themselves.

   Despite staunch GOP opposition, the bill is all but certain to pass the 
House when it's scheduled for a floor vote Wednesday. But challenges lay ahead 
in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

   On some legislation, it takes only 51 votes to pass, with Vice President 
Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. On a deeply divisive bill like this one, they 
would need 60 votes under the Senate's rules to overcome a Republican 
filibuster --- a tally they are unlikely to reach.

   Some have discussed options like lowering the threshold to break a 
filibuster, or creating a workaround that would allow some legislation to be 
exempt. Democratic congressional aides say the conversations are fluid, but 

   Many in the party remain hopeful, and Biden's administration has said the 
bill is a priority. But the window to pass legislation before the 2022 midterms 
is closing.

   "We may not get the opportunity to make this change again for many, many 
decades," said Sarbanes, the bill's lead sponsor. "Shame on us if we don't get 
this done."

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