GOP expected to filibuster Senate election bill that would boost mail-in voting, mandate auto-registration
The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote Wednesday afternoon to end a filibuster on an election bill that would impose national standards on how states conduct federal elections, including requirements for mail-in voting and automatic voter registration.
Democrats’ efforts to break the filibuster are expected to fail, as they would need ten Republicans to achieve the necessary 60 votes to move forward on the bill. So far, no Republican appears to be in favor of this.
The 592-page bill, known as the “Freedom to Vote Act,” includes sweeping reforms that include the requirement of states to provide automatic voter registration, as well as online and same-day registration. It also calls for making Election Day a public holiday.
Several provisions in the bill call for significant expansion of absentee voting by mail. It prohibits states from placing any conditions or requirements on voters to vote absentee, provided they are otherwise eligible to vote, and it forbids states from imposing voter identification requirements except for first-time voters who register by mail. It also prohibits notarization or witness signature requirements for mail-in voting.
Additionally, the bill would allow voters with disabilities to obtain electronic absentee ballots, while leaving it up to states to figure out how to track and verify them. It also lifts the $10 million annual cap on funding for the Elections Assistance Commission, while prohibiting the commission from contracting with people or federal agencies for “supplies and services.”
Republicans have blasted Democrats’ efforts to pass federal election reforms as they take power away from states. The Freedom to Vote Act derives its authority from Article I, section 4, of the Constitution, which says that while states have the power to set the times, places, and manner of holding elections, Congress can pass a law changing them. That clause, however, specifies that it only applies to elections for House and Senate. The bill, if passed, would go into effect before the 2022 mid-term elections.
If Democrats had the support of all of their members, they could use Wednesday’s expected failed vote as a parliamentary tool to make a special carve-out to curb filibusters – specific to voting rights legislation. But it’s unlikely Democrats have the votes to execute such an end-run. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have both voiced their support for keeping the filibuster.