Deep Partisanship on Display as Congress Releases Competing Voting Bills

In the upcoming weeks, Congress will consider shoring up election and voting laws in efforts that will reflect the growing gulf between Republicans and Democrats on protecting the foundation of American democracy.

The parties will unveil competing, separate proposals with little chance of success in a divided government but are likely to be used to rally supporters before the 2024 election.

Monday, House Republicans released a proposal that would tighten voting laws and take a firm stand against concerns that laws passed in recent years by Republican-controlled state legislatures cause disadvantage to some voters. Meanwhile, Democrats are preparing to reintroduce their own proposals to restore protections and set federal voting standards under the Voting Rights Act. 

As the country prepares for the 2024 presidential election, the different measures will underscore how the two major parties have acted with minimal cohesion and are often at odds over voting procedures.

House Republicans said they are sending a message by releasing their plan on the eve of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in Atlanta. MLB withdrew its midsummer game from the city in 2021 over objections to the state enacting new voting laws. 

The event kickstarted a push by the House to pass the Republican’s “American Confidence in Elections Act.”

“This legislation is the most substantive and conservative election integrity legislation that will come before the House in over a generation,” said GOP Representative Bryan Steil of Wisconsin, chair of the House Administration Committee Monday. 

“It works to boost voters’ confidence and uphold the Constitution by ensuring states maintain primary control over elections, not the federal government,” said Steil in a hearing last month. 

“This is in stark contrast to House Democrats’ efforts in the last two congresses, which would have nationalized our election system and centralized it in Washington, D.C.”

Since the 2020 presidential election, many GOP-led state legislatures have banned or curtailed the use of ballot drop boxes, limited the ability to return a ballot on behalf of someone else, and added ID requirements to mail voting. 

Republicans in Georgia have touted the state’s wide-sweeping 2021 voting law as a framework for national reform, arguing that the 2022 midterms and solid voter turnout were a rebuke to concerns the measure could result in voter suppression. 

“The Georgia General Assembly has worked to create a system that makes it easier to vote, have results that can be audited and verified, give voters options for their preferred method of voting, and build confidence using voter ID,” said Georgia state GOP Representative Scot Turner during a House Administration Committee May hearing. 

Critics say voter assistance groups had to increase efforts to counter the law’s effects

Critics of the legislation say voter assistance groups had to increase efforts to counter the law’s effects and spend more money to help ensure they could successfully cast a ballot despite facing new hurdles and to educate voters.  

Democrats contend the sustained attacks on the voting process by Republicans show that measures are needed to ensure fair and free elections. 

“America is under threat from election deniers and extremist anti-voting forces who undermine our democracy,” said ranking Democrat on the House Administration Committee, New York Representative Joe Morelle. “In contrast, our agenda offers national standards that ensure every eligible American can participate in accessible, secure, and transparent elections.”

Their efforts last year to enact federal voting protections failed after Democrats could not secure enough votes in the Senate to overcome the procedural rules used by the GOP to block them. 

While little has changed since Democrats argued it is essential to continue pressuring on the issue. 

“Very soon, we will once again move to bring real, much-needed voting rights legislation before Congress,” said Democrat Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Monday on the Senate floor. 

Democrats expect the proposals to closely reflect an updated bill that was put together last year with the involvement of West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin. Manchin had sought a compromise that could draw some Republican support, dropping some of the more controversial provisions and pushing to keep state-approved voter ID requirements under certain circumstances. 

In the end, the GOP remained united in their opposition and argued the bill was a Democrat power grab aimed at taking over federal elections. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named in honor of the former congressman from Georgia and civil rights leader who died in 2020, would allow for federal review of voting law changes in certain jurisdictions to resume. 

A 2013 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court halted the process known as preclearance after deciding the formula was outdated for identifying which jurisdictions should be subject to review. 

In the meantime, states are not waiting for federal action — which would lead to election-related bills that sharply diverge based on the state and which party is in control. In places where Democrats hold the majority, legislators have been focusing on expanding access to voting, restoring the right to vote for those with past felony convictions, and overhauling the redistricting process.

New York, Virginia, Oregon, California, and Washington are among the states that have passed comprehensive voting rights laws in recent years. 

In Michigan, lawmakers have been busy passing legislation to implement an initiative implemented in 2022 that established nine days of early voting, the use of a permanent absentee voter list, and the use of a signed affidavit or photo ID to verify a voter’s identity, among other actions. Legislators are also weighing a proposal to create a state-level Voting Rights Act that would create a preclearance process for state-level review of local voting changes in certain circumstances.