As states move to restrict voting, Congress must act — and soon

If it wasn’t already obvious that Congress must act to protect voting rights, Georgia’s enactment of a the deceptively named Election Integrity Act of 2021 underscores the urgency of that mission.

The state’s new measure restricts the placement of ballot drop boxes, adds new ID requirements for obtaining absentee ballots and gives the state legislature a larger role in election oversight. Its most offensive provision bars people from offering food and drink to voters standing in line.

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Regrettably, however, some of the most troubling changes in the law, such as giving the State Election Board more authority over county election offices, wouldn’t be directly remedied if Congress passed the mammoth For the People Act (HR 1) approved by the House and facing uncertain prospects in the Senate.

Still, passing HR 1 would provide some relief to Georgians whose ability to vote and have their votes counted could be impaired.

Other states with Republican-controlled legislatures could pass even worse laws making it harder for voters — especially people of color — to exercise the franchise. That raises the stakes for election legislation in Congress.

It’s imperative that Congress enact the core voting provisions of the For the People Act — including requirements that states allow wide use of mail-in ballots and provide a minimum number of days for early voting — as well as a provision entrusting congressional redistricting to independent commissions.

Other provisions of the 800-page bill, including a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices and a new system of public financing for congressional elections — can be addressed separately.

Congress also needs to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reinvigorate a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to pre-clear changes in election procedures with the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court.

Even if Democrats abolished the filibuster for legislation (as it should), there is no guarantee the Senate will pass significant voting rights legislation.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who exercises disproportionate influence in the Democratic caucus, is uneasy about federal intervention in elections and reportedly unwilling to vote for an elections bill that isn’t bipartisan. According to The New York Times, other Democrats are also wary, and state election officials think some of the mandates in HR 1 are impracticable.

Some election provisions in HR 1 could be refined without compromising the central goal of ensuring minimum standards for federal elections throughout the country. As President Joe Biden said during his recent news conference, successful electoral politics is “the art of the possible.”

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What Democrats must not compromise on is the urgency of preventing former President Donald Trump’s Big Lie — that the 2020 election was “rigged” or otherwise invalid — from making it harder for Americans to vote.

— Los Angeles Times

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