We’re back...with a new format and lots to talk about

Are Democrats trying to save American democracy or grab power?

First things first: sorry for the pause on articles. Take this as my fessing up to that not-too-brief hiatus. 

Second, I want to let you know about some changes to the newsletter. From now on, you’ll be getting one piece per week. It’ll come on Fridays. And it’ll always be from me. Here’s what you’ll get in that article:

  • Above the Fold: An in-depth look at the most important election news story of the week

  • The Front Page: A quick look at 3 more election news stories from the week that you need to know about

  • The Classifieds: A few articles, podcasts, movies, etc. about elections to check out

If you’ve been reading Infinite Monkeys since we started in December, this looks a lot different. I hope you like the new format and will continue reading. If you have any suggestions, comments, criticism, or questions, just respond to this email. 

And if you enjoy this, the best way to help me out is to forward this email to someone who you think might enjoy it. The newsletter has about 450 subscribers, and my goal is to hit 500 by April 15, so please consider helping me out.

— Seth

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Above the Fold

Democrats’ election reform bill, the “For the People Act”, took some heavy punches this week. The legislation is the party’s self-proclaimed top priority — that’s why the House and Senate designated it H.R.1 and S.1. Along with the rest of the Democratic agenda, the bill’s fortunes rest in the Senate. The House already passed its version of the Act earlier this month and S.1 was introduced to the Senate last Wednesday. 

Things appear to be moving forward in the Senate — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to get the legislation to the chamber floor for a vote, and the Senate Rules Committee held a hearing on it this week — but this is mostly stagecraft. Unless Democrats can wrangle 60 votes (nearly impossible) or scrap the Filibuster (unlikely), this bill is not becoming law anytime soon. 

Its chance of passing the Senate steepened even further this week after The Daily Beast published an article taking the bill to task, calling it half-baked and impractical. Democrats argue that they can iron out the problems in the Senate; Republicans say the bill is a fatally flawed power grab. 

What’s in it

Before looking at arguments for and against the bill, I’m going to cover its key provisions. I pulled these from the Brennan Center, which has a good (although biased) breakdown of the bill. 

The “For the People Act”:

  • Mandates Automatic Voter Registration when people interact with federal agencies like the DMV or Medicaid. This essentially makes voter registration opt-out versus opt-in. 

  • Eliminates state voter ID laws and requirements

  • Mandates 15 days of early voting for federal elections

  • Mandates no-excuse absentee voting for federal elections

  • Bans partisan gerrymandering and mandates that independent, nonpartisan commissions draw congressional boundaries

  • Restricts states’ ability to clean up/purge voter rolls (I’ll let you choose the language you use to describe the practice.)

  • Restores voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences

  • Mandates any corporation, union, nonprofit, who spends over 10k per election cycle to disclose its donors

  • Requires Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates disclose 10 years of tax returns

  • Mandates the use of paper ballots

  • Institutes public campaign financing: Congressional and presidential candidates can opt into a six-to-one matching system for donations of up to $200 if they reject high-dollar contributions.

  • And much, much, more

Support

Almost all elected Democrats and progressives activists support the legislation. 220 out of 221 Democrats in the House voted to pass the legislation on March 3. Every single Democratic Senator — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin being the exception — co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. President Biden and VP Harris also support the bill. Biden even indicated that he might support nuking the filibuster if Republicans refuse to cooperate and pass the legislation.

In a piece for The Washington Post, Robert Rubin backed Biden up saying, that ideally H.R.1 and H.R.4 (another voting rights bill) “would pass with wide bipartisan majorities after a traditional Senate debate. But if the bills don’t garner 60 votes, yet a majority is ready to pass these bills into law, the Senate should declare that H.R.1 and H.R.4 are so important that the 60-vote threshold for breaking a filibuster and ending debate should no longer apply to them, regardless of where senators stand on the broader question of eliminating or reforming the filibuster altogether.”

The Brennan Center, which I mentioned earlier as the source of my breakdown of the legislation, argues that the Act is crucial to the health of American Democracy and other progressive priorities.

“This historic legislation responds to twin crises facing our country: the ongoing attack on democracy — reflected in the assault on the Capitol on January 6 and the subsequent flood of vote suppression bills across the country — and the urgent demand for racial justice. It is based on the key insight that the best way to defend democracy is to strengthen democracy. If enacted, it would be the most significant voting rights and democracy reform in more than half a century.”

The Brennan Center highlights provisions “including automatic voter registration and other steps to modernize our elections; a national guarantee of free and fair elections without voter suppression, coupled with a commitment to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act; small donor public financing to empower ordinary Americans instead of big donors (at no cost to taxpayers) and other critical campaign finance reforms; an end to partisan gerrymandering; and a much-needed overhaul of federal ethics rules. Critically, the Act would thwart virtually every vote suppression bill currently pending in the states.”

Opposition

The loudest critics of the bill are, unsurprisingly, Republicans and conservatives. Roy Blunt, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, called it a "federal takeover of the election process" and said it would be an “unmitigated disaster for our democracy." Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the bill a “partisan power grab.”

The editors of National Review agreed

“It would be an understatement to describe H.R.1 as a radical assault on American democracy, federalism, and free speech. It is actually several radical left-wing wish lists stuffed into a single 791-page sausage casing. It would override hundreds of state laws governing the orderly conduct of elections, federalize control of voting and elections to a degree without precedent in American history, end two centuries of state power to draw congressional districts, turn the Federal Elections Commission into a partisan weapon, and massively burden political speech against the government while offering government handouts to congressional campaigns and campus activists. Merely to describe the bill is to damn it, and describing it is a Herculean task in itself.”

But the hesitation isn’t limited to the right. As I said earlier, the article that opened the floodgates of criticism against the bill came from traditionally left-friendly The Daily Beast. That the author, Jessica Huseman, agreed with the principles behind the bill made her criticism even more poignant.  

“While the tenets of the bill are laudable—its provisions on redistricting and campaign finance are badly needed—and would help America grapple with the very real problem of voter suppression, it was written with apparently no consultation with election administrators, and it shows. While the overall message is positive, it comes packed with deadlines and requirements election administrators cannot possibly meet without throwing their systems into chaos.”

Highlighting specifics, she writes that “the sections of the bill related to voting systems—wholly separate from its provisions on voting rights—show remarkably little understanding of the problems the authors apply alarmingly prescriptive solutions to. Many of the changes the bill demands of election administrators are literally impossible to implement. Others would significantly raise the cost of elections but provide no assured long-term funding.

“It empowers an agency—the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission—that was criticized less than a year ago for mismanagement and fecklessness by the same Democrats promoting this bill. And, perversely to its purpose, the bill would make elections less secure by forcing states to rush gargantuan changes on deeply unrealistic time frames. The fixes needed are many and are doable, so it’s unacceptable that the authors of the Senate bill bypassed the chance to improve it.”

And though the article from The Daily Beast got more attention, The Washington Post published a piece earlier this month highlighting free speech concerns. ACLU lawyers Kate Ruane and Sonia Gill wrote that “H.R.1, in an attempt to find a solution to the problem of ‘dark money,’ requires public disclosure of the names and addresses of donors who give $10,000 or more to organizations that engage in ‘campaign-related disbursements,’ which could include paid political speech that discusses a public issue such as immigrants’ rights, voting rights or reproductive freedom if the communication merely mentions a candidate for public office.”

They go on to criticize H.R.1 for strengthening prohibitions on advocacy by foreign nationals “which includes, DACA recipients, asylum seekers, temporary protected status holders and many other noncitizens.”

The Front Page

  1. Democrat Rita Hart asked the House on Monday to overturn her election loss. The Democrat, who lost the election for Iowa’s second congressional district to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, filed a brief to the House Administration Committee, arguing that 22 ballots that should have been counted were not. Since the recount had her losing by just six votes, this would be enough to overturn the results in Hart’s favor.

    The House has the final say, and because Democrats control the Chamber, a unified party could vote to replace Miller-Meeks. But for now, the investigation, a process that could involve on-the-ground fact gathering and a recount, is in the hands of the House Administration Committee. Vulnerable Democrats, hoping to avoid a public vote on the House floor, want the challenge to die in the committee. This hesitancy, however, isn’t shared by the whole caucus. According to Politico, the effort “has been blessed by the top echelons of House Democratic leadership. And the DCCC has brought in — and is paying the legal fees for — top Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias.” The committee does not have a timeline for the review, but the two camps have until March 29 to file follow-up briefs. Read More: Politico

  2. Republican Julia Letlow won a special election for Louisiana’s fifth congressional on Saturday. The district is prime Republican turf, comprising rural northeastern and central Louisiana, and was left vacant after Julia Letlow’s husband, Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, died after winning the district’s runoff election late last year. On Saturday, Julia Letlow led the all-party primary with 65% of the vote, bypassing the 50% mark needed to avoid a runoff. She’ll be sworn in in April, once the House returns to D.C. Read More: Washington Post

  3. The effort to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom is on. Barring a massive surprise, the 2.1 million signatures that recall organizers submitted State will be enough to trigger the election. As of Monday, the state had combed through 1,454,710 submitted signatures, determining that 1,188,073, or 82%, are valid. If this validity rate holds for the next 600,000 million signatures, recall organizers will easily pass the magic number — 1,495,709 — that they need for the recall to go forward. 

    October 26 is the last legal date that the recall could take place, according to Ballotpedia’s calculation. Here’s how Ballotpedia says the actual vote would happen: “A recall election would present voters with two questions. The first would ask whether Newsom should be recalled from the office of governor. The second would ask who should succeed Newsom if he is recalled. A majority vote is required on the first question for the governor to be recalled. The candidate with the most votes on the second question would win the election, no majority required.” 

The Classifieds

A Close-Up Picture of Partisan Segregation, Among 180 Million Voters in The New York Times

The House: Unclear Lines, Clear Expectations (and this associated tweet thread) in Sabato’s Crystal Ball

‘It’s not a local issue anymore’: D.C. statehood moves from political fringe to the center of the national Democratic agenda in The Washington Post

Can you help me out?

Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom! If you enjoyed this, please make sure to subscribe and then send it along to your friends and family. I’m trying to hit 500 subscribers by April 15 and could use the help!

— Seth

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