David Meyers | Fulcrum

With the exception of important updates to the rules for counting electoral votes, Congress failed to pass meaningful changes to election laws in recent years. With Republicans running the House and Democrats controlling the Senate, it would take a Herculean bit of bipartisan negotiations to pass anything related to voting rights over the next two years.

But that hasn’t stopped a number of House members from introducing election-related legislation early in the 118th Congress.

A review of Congress’ legislative database finds more than a dozen bills and resolutions that would impact elections and Americans’ representation on Capitol Hill. While they are all unlikely to make it through the House, let alone the Senate, the proposals are indicative of various factions’ priorities for democracy.

Many of the bills represent either Democrats’ desire to expand the voter pool or Republicans’ goal of increasing election security.

For example, Democrat Grace Meng of New York has introduced a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 16. Texas Democrat Al Green introduced legislation directing the Election Assistance Commission to fund a voter education program directed at high school seniors. And Julia Brownley, a California Democrat, offered a bill requiring states to allow people to register to vote on the day they cast a ballot.

“Our democracy cannot function at its best until it accurately reflects the people it serves,” Brownley said. “Same-day voter registration is an important step that all states need to take to increase voter turnout, which will in turn secure better representation of our country.”

Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., offer same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

On the other side of the aisle, much of the proposed legislation centers on preventing non-citizens from voting.

Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona introduced a bill to repeal the National Voter Registration Act, a law enacted in 1993 that requires states to provide voter registration services through their motor vehicle departments, among other provisions. When he previously offered the bill in 2020, Biggs said the NVRA is outdated and opens loopholes through which non-citizens could be put on the voter rolls. A second Biggs bill would make voting by anyone unlawfully in the country a deportable offense.

In fact, voting by non-citizens appears to be a priority among a number of Republicans in the House.

August Pfluger of Texas has offered a bill to prevent noncitizens from voting in the District of Columbia’s local election, and Ketucky’s James Comer, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, introduced a resolution condemning of the D.C. law that authorizes voting of non-citizens.

Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina takes things further with a bill that would ban federal funding for any state or local government that allows non-citizens to vote.

“Allowing non-citizen voting in the United States dilutes the value of American citizenship and threatens our national sovereignty,” Duncan said when he announced the bill Jan. 10. “Voting is the hallmark of our democracy, and non-citizen voting undermines our election integrity. Voting is a right that should be limited solely to American citizens, and this legislation will help safeguard our election from foreign interference.”

(U.S. law prohibits non-citizens from voting in federal elections. According to Ballotpedia, 16 municipalities – including New York and San Francisco – allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.)

And then there’s Republican Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who has introduced multiple election-related bills that appear to offer compromises or nonpartisan approaches to elections:

  • One bill would require states to use nonpartisan independent redistricting and open primaries to independent voters.
  • Another requires most voters to present photo identification when casting a ballot, but sets out procedures for assisting those who cannot afford ID.
  • A third bill sets federal standards for voting by mail (including a requirement that such ballots be received by the time polls close), requires states to offer automatic voter registration and establishes a national database to help states confirm voter eligibility, among other provisions.

“I believe that these ideas introduced today transcend partisan politics and strike at the foundation of what our country needs: a renewed confidence in our leaders and our government,” Fitzpatrick said when he introduced the bills Jan. 7. “Our country faces so many challenges, but I am confident that if my colleagues from both sides of the aisle work together with me to adopt these critical reforms, we can restore faith and confidence in our institutions, which is severely lacking right now.”

Fitzpatrick may be one of the lawmakers best suited to push through legislative solutions. He has the third highest score on the Common Ground Scorecard, which measures politicians’ willingness to listen to the other side and seek compromise. Fitzpatrick’s score (100) dwarfs the average score of 26.

Glenn Nye, a former Democratic House member from Virginia now runs the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He believes the early introduction of these bills shows the passion some lawmakers have for changing election laws, but admits Congress may be a long way from passing any of them.

“We have to hit a tremendous tipping point for these reforms to become law and we’re far from it,” he said. “Having said that, we have to keep testing. I find it a positive sign that lawmakers want to introduce measures and test them.”

One difference between failure and success is the desire for change, according to Nye.

“Generally incumbents are against reform. Why rock the boat?,” he said, explaining that the bills may not really be meant to pass. “Is this a values statement or a strategic message statement?”

He pointed to the failure of the For the People Act in the previous Congress, noting the bill was more of a message statement than a legislative proposal that could garner enough bipartisan support to make it through a narrowly divided Senate.

This story was originally published by Fulcrum on January 23, 2023.

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