More than a month after Texas restricted how and when voters cast ballots, the U.S. Senate plans this week to take up a bill that could override parts of the state’s new elections law — and impact new political maps state lawmakers approved in the past week.
Democrats' nonstop efforts to break the filibuster are predicted to fail, as they would require ten Republicans to achieve the necessary 60 votes to move forward on the bill. Thus far, not a single Republican representative appears to be in favor of this move.
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.
A handful of 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 additionally prohibits notarization or witness signature requirements for mail-in voting.
In addition, the bill would allow voters with disabilities to obtain electronic absentee ballots, while leaving it up to states to figure out a system to track and verify them. It also lifts the $10 million annual cap on funding for the Elections Assistance Commission, while barring the commission from contracting with people or federal agencies for "supplies and services."
Republicans have slammed 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 concludes 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 midterm 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.