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Republicans’ conservative election bill heads to House floor

Package would overturn some D.C. voting laws and encourage states to enact voter ID requirements

Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., chairman of the House Administration Committee.
Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., chairman of the House Administration Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Administration Committee voted 8-4 on Thursday to advance a conservative election package, batting down dozens of amendments from Democrats during a marathon markup.

Democrats have described the bill, dubbed the American Confidence in Elections Act, as a blatant attempt to disenfranchise voters of color, protect wealthy donors and undercut Washington, D.C.’s right to self-govern.

Proponents say the 224-page bill is full of commonsense measures to improve voter confidence and election integrity. It would urge states to adopt voter ID requirements; override some D.C. election laws; prevent federal funds from flowing to states that allow noncitizen voting or “ballot harvesting,” in which third parties collect voters’ ballots; and prohibit federal agencies from tapping into conservative nonprofits.

“Over the past 20 years, voters on both sides of the aisle have lost faith in our elections,” House Administration Chairman Bryan Steil, R-Wis., said at the markup. “When American voters are more confident, they’re more likely to participate. We are prepared to fight against false narratives to secure our elections.”

Republicans have been teasing their election bill since taking back control of the House at the beginning of the 118th Congress. The House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal elections, held nine hearings on election-related issues and on Monday announced the introduction of the bill at a field hearing in Georgia, whose state laws have served as a model for the legislation.

They followed that introduction with a press conference Wednesday afternoon with support from House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La. The bill has 100 House Republican sponsors, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., but its outlook is bleak in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

At Thursday’s markup, the committee’s majority members voted in favor of just one of the nearly 50 amendments offered by Democrats. That amendment, from Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and adopted by voice vote, would commission a study of states’ ability to conduct special congressional elections in the event of a mass casualty event involving members of Congress.

“This is simply a [Government Accountability Office] study to look at the capacity to meet the current requirements and what would happen if there were the need for this urgent special election,” Kilmer said.

Democrats’ alternative to the GOP proposal was offered as a substitute amendment but failed on a party-line vote. A version of the same bill advanced out of the House in the 117th Congress but did not advance in the Senate. 

The Democrats’ bill would expand automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration, set a national standard for no-excuse vote-by-mail and prohibit unlawful voter roll purges, among other changes that have little, if any, Republican support.

“This year state legislatures have passed a near-record number of new restrictive voting laws,” House Administration ranking member Joseph D. Morelle, D-N.Y., said. “The Supreme Court found multiple congressional maps racially gerrymandered. And violent threats against election workers and officials remains a constant peril. This amendment will protect this most basic — and fundamental of freedoms.”

Morelle also offered an amendment acknowledging that President Joe Biden was the rightful winner of the 2020 election.  Four of the five House Administration Republicans in office at the time voted to overturn the 2020 election results on Jan. 6, 2021, hours after a pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol. On Thursday, every Republican member in attendance voted against the amendment.

“This should be the easiest amendment vote we take today, since this is just a purely factual finding, which no serious person can dispute,” Morelle said.

Republicans spiked Democratic amendments that would make Election Day a federal holiday, require polling places on college campuses and commission studies on mail-in voting and racial disparities in voter turnout.

Alabama Democratic Rep. Terri A. Sewell attempted to strike the section of the voting bill that would affect the nation’s capital, a major point of contention for committee Democrats, who have argued that D.C. should have the ability to self-govern.

As part of their argument that D.C. is a city in need of reform, Republicans on the committee pointed to recent audits of local elections that showed tens of thousands of mail-in ballots were returned as undeliverable, potentially creating opportunities for fraud. The bill would require voter-list maintenance in D.C.

Sewell, however, cited a voter fraud database compiled by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, that lists zero instances of confirmed voter fraud in D.C. since 1979. 

“If elections in Washington, D.C., lack integrity, it is not because of fraud or insecure election procedures. It is because half a million D.C. residents are being denied full voting representation in Congress,” Sewell said.

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