U.S. House Republicans pass overhaul of federal elections system out of committee
A U.S. House committee led by Republicans on Thursday night passed an overhaul of U.S. voting laws. (Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — On a party-line vote, the U.S. Committee on House Administration on Thursday night passed a bill that would enact strict new voting laws for states, such as requiring copies of IDs for voting by mail, and set penalties for states that allow voting by noncitizens in local elections.
The 224-page bill, H.R. 4563, was approved 8-4, and contains provisions similar to those passed in many Republican-led states since the 2020 election.
The chair, Republican Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin, said the measure establishes a “common sense election integrity” standard that is similar to those in states with recently passed voter overhaul bills, such as Georgia. Many Democrats and voting rights advocates have criticized the Georgia voting law for its strict voting requirements, arguing that it would disproportionately harm voters of color.
“Two years ago, Georgia implemented their election integrity reform,” Steil said. “The data shows voter participation increased under the new law. Georgia experienced record midterm turnout in 2022. The left is still falsely claiming election integrity leads to voter suppression.”
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Joe Morelle of New York, slammed the House bill for “catering to the demands of election deniers,” and said it will not increase voter access to the ballot.
“Americans can take solace in the fact that this bill will never become law,” Morelle said.
While the overhaul has a chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House, it’s likely to die in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority.
There are currently 100 Republican co-sponsors of the bill, including GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California. No Democrats are backing it.
During the markup, Democrats unsuccessfully offered more than a dozen amendments that would lengthen early voting to two weeks, expand access to voting by mail and require reporting of digital ads to the Federal Election Commission, among other election-related measures.
Republicans argued that states should have the ability to run their own elections without interference from the federal government.
“The government closest to the people is best to serve its needs, and our states are the ones who should be deciding specific policies, specific procedures and practices they will implement and utilize,” Republican Rep. Laurel Lee of Florida said in support of the bill.
Lee previously served as Florida’s secretary of state and facilitated the state’s elections.
One amendment from Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer of Washington was included in a unanimous vote. That amendment related to special election requirements ensuring the continuity of Congress, should there be a mass casualty event.
“Our existing rules would leave us without a functional government for a period of several months while special elections occur,” he said.
He said that under current law, states are required within 49 days to hold special elections. The amendment would authorize a study to see if states could meet those requirements if there is a mass casualty event.
Vote by mail
Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama unsuccessfully offered several amendments that would expand voting access, such as same-day voter registration, establishing Election Day as a federal holiday, extending early voting to weekends and establishing automatic voter registration.
None of her amendments were adopted. Republicans argued that states should handle early voting, and the federal government should not impose those requirements.
Steil also argued that federal workers have many days off already and that there’s no guarantee that people would actually vote on the holiday.
Sewell said she was also concerned about state legislatures passing laws with strict voting requirements.
“We saw unprecedented voter turnout in the 2020 election. Rather than responding to increased voter participation with welcoming arms and pro-voter policies, states enacted laws that roll back access and aim to erect roadblocks to the ballot box,” she said.
Sewell said the bill makes voting harder, similar to the states that have passed laws following the 2020 presidential election.
The bill would require that voters who request mail-in ballots to include a copy of their ID with their application.
There’s a large body of research that has found that strict voter ID laws disproportionately impact voters of color.
Kilmer said voting by mail should not be a partisan issue. He pointed out that his state only votes by mail and has done so since 2011, and that all eligible voters in his state are automatically registered to vote.
“It’s been widely embraced,” he said of voting by mail in his state.
The bill also requires that every two years, states send the federal Election Assistance Commission a report that lists inactive voters and registered voters who voted in at least one of the prior two consecutive general elections.
The bill would also bar states from using federal funds to partner with a nongovernmental organization in voter registration drives or voter mobilization, “including registering voters or providing any person with voter registration materials, absentee or vote-by-mail ballot applications, voting instructions, or candidate-related information, on the property or website of the agency.”
The bill also takes aim at the District of Columbia, which is home to more than 700,000 residents. Because of its status as a district, D.C. has one House member who has no voting status in Congress, similar to Puerto Rico and four other U.S. territories.
The bill would set voting laws for D.C., overriding any laws passed by the Council. For example, the bill would require voter IDs for someone to vote in D.C., which is currently not a requirement in D.C. elections, and would prohibit the city from using ranked choice voting.
The bill also includes mandatory audits and requires the District to conduct an audit within 30 days after each election.
“I find it to be incredulous to tell the citizens of D.C. what they can and cannot do when they are larger than a lot of the states that get two senators and get representatives,” Sewell said, adding that D.C. needs statehood.
The bill also would repeal an amendment passed by the D.C. Council in 2022 to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. California, Maryland and Vermont have similar laws, and the bill would set requirements for those states who have laws to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections.
For example, under the bill, states that allow noncitizens to participate in local elections would need to have a separate voter roll for noncitizens who are registered and there would be a 30% reduction in federal payments to any state or local jurisdictions that permit voting by noncitizens. Those states would also be barred from receiving any federal funding to implement certain election administration activities.
The bill text says that “[i]t is the sense of Congress that” even if a state has sovereign authority, “no State should permit non-citizens to cast ballots in State or local elections.”
The bill also clarifies that states have the authority to remove noncitizens from voter rolls. Some noncitizens have been found on voter rolls, but it’s usually by mistake — for example, when the state will automatically register an individual who is getting a driver’s license even if they apply for a license with a work visa or green card, as NPR reported happening in Pennsylvania.
“[A]llowing non-citizens to cast ballots in American elections weakens our electoral system, directly and indirectly impacts Federal policy and funding decisions and candidate choice through the election of State and local officials, dilutes the value of citizenship, and sows distrust in our elections system,” according to the bill text.
The bill would also require a district court to notify the chief election official of the state and the state attorney general if an individual is turned away from serving on a jury because they are not a citizen.
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