Democrats and Republicans have clashed before over H.R. 1, the House Dems’ sweeping package of democracy and governance proposals, but today the fight goes directly to the election security provisions of the bill. The House Homeland Security panel holds a hearing today on the measure with testimony from DHS’s top cyber official, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs, Election Assistance Commission Chairman Thomas Hicks and others. A CISA official told MC: “Director Krebs will confirm election security remains a priority for CISA in the run up to 2020, laying out the Agency’s plan to work with State and local election officials on broader engagement, better defining risk to election systems, and understanding the resources to manage that risk.” At least one witness — Jake Braun, a former Obama administration official who now works as executive director of the University of Chicago’s Cyber Policy Initiative and an organizer of DEF CON’s Voting Village — endorses the bill’s election security ideas in his prepared testimony. He praises the provisions mandating auditable paper trails and authorizing voting infrastructure research and development funds.
The crisis of democracy that has attended Donald Trump’s Presidency has visibly manifested itself in challenges to the free press, the judiciary, and the intelligence agencies, but among its more corrosive effects has been the corruption of basic mathematics. Since the 2016 election, Trump has periodically rage-tweeted about an alleged three million non-citizens whose ballots delivered the popular-vote majority to Hillary Clinton. His fulminations were a fanciful extension of the Republican Party’s concern, despite all evidence to the contrary, that American elections are riddled with voter fraud. The math does, however, support a different number—one that truthfully points to how American democracy is being undermined. Nearly two million fewer African-Americans voted in the 2016 election than did in 2012. That decline can be attributed, in part, to the fact that it was the first election since 2008 in which Barack Obama was not on the ballot and, in part, to an ambivalence toward Clinton among certain black communities. Civil-rights groups and members of the Congressional Black Caucus point to another factor as well: 2016 was the first Presidential election since the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision, which eviscerated sections of the Voting Rights Act. Suppressive tactics, some old, some new, ensued—among them, voter-roll purges; discriminatory voter-I.D. rules; fewer polling places and voting machines; and reductions in early-voting periods. After an election in which some two million Americans went missing, the Administration concluded that three million too many had shown up at the polls. (The equation here is: reality minus delusion equals three million.)
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raised their voices Wednesday over whether a sweeping election reform bill proposed by Democrats would drain or fill the Washington swamp. The wide-ranging anti-corruption bill, House Resolution 1, includes a provision that would increase transparency in campaign finance by requiring candidates to report where their campaign money comes from. That measure was the focus of committee members from both parties during the nearly four-hour hearing in the House Oversight Committee. Bradley Smith, an expert witness and chairman of the Institute for Free Speech, repeatedly told committee members that the bill would have a “chilling effect” on citizens’ desire to engage in elections through avenues like campaign donations. “You run the risk of regulations swallowing up the entire discourse in which the public engages,” Smith said.
The House will advance a package of voting rights, campaign finance and ethics overhauls this month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a “Dear Colleague” letter Monday night. House Democrats have introduced the government overhaul package as HR 1 to reflect its priority status. They believe fundamentally changing the way government operates will increase public buy-in as Democrats pursue an economic policy agenda focused on issues such as heath care, infrastructure and climate change. “During this Black History Month, I am pleased we will be advancing H.R. 1, which contains Congressman John Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act ensuring equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, and lays the groundwork of the subsequent passage of Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s Voting Rights Advancement Act,” Pelosi wrote, citing two black lawmakers who have sponsored legislation that is part of the Democrats’ effort to overhaul voting rights laws.
National: State officials want election security cash. But some don’t like the strings attached. | The Washington Post
State election officials want the latest round of election security money included in a major bill proposed by House Democrats – but they’re divided on whether they want to accept a slew of voting mandates that come along with it. The divide is largely along partisan lines. On one side, there’s Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R), the incoming president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, who balked at provisions in H.R. 1 that make it more difficult for states to impose voter ID requirements. Pate said in an email the For the People Act amounts to the federal government seizing authority over elections from states. On the other side are Democrats who largely support those efforts to expand voter access and consider them a fair trade for more election security money. “There’s a tension over H.R. 1 and whether or not it’s a federalization of elections,” one Democratic secretary of state told me at the NASS conference in Washington this weekend. “It is not. And anyone who claims that it is, that’s an overreach.”
National: Republicans Rewrote Voting Laws for 8 Years. Now Democrats Say It’s Their Turn. | The New York Times
In the years after Republicans swept state and congressional elections in 2010, legislatures in 25 states — all but a handful of them dominated by the party — enacted laws that made it harder to register and vote, from imposing ID requirements and curbing voter registration drives to rolling back early voting periods. In November, Democrats reclaimed some of the ground they lost eight years ago. And now the rules for casting a ballot are moving fast in the opposite direction. The signal example is in New York, where Democrats this month enacted a series of measures expanding access to the ballot box, just two months after taking full control of both the State House and Senate. But that state is far from the only one: Legislatures in New Jersey and Virginia are set to consider even more expansive packages. Delaware, New Hampshire, Minnesota and New Mexico are also set to take up voting rights measures. All those proposals, in legislatures under Democratic control or on the cusp of it, have plausible prospects of becoming law. But Democrats are pushing legislation to expand access to the ballot even in some states like South Carolina and Texas where Republicans control makes approval unlikely.
National: Judiciary Hearing on Democrats’ Election Bill Turns Into Partisan Brawl | The New York Times
House Democrats faced sustained partisan fire on Tuesday over their ambitious elections overhaul bill, a top priority for the new Democratic leaders who must answer charges that their efforts to counter partisan gerrymandering and ease access to the polls strain the constitutional reach of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee’s inaugural hearing of the 116th Congress was dedicated to the voting and ethics rules overhaul, known as the For the People Act, which Democratic representatives have trumpeted as their signature legislative priority. But its reception underscored the challenges the bill will face in a divided Capitol. The bill would turn the drawing of congressional boundaries over to nonpartisan commissions, promote more transparency in campaign contributions and expand the public financing system for House and presidential candidates. “The broader issue is what kind of country America is and should be,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the committee.
Editorials: Nancy Pelosi’s H.R. 1 election reform bill could save American democracy. | Richard Hasen/Slate
The Democrats’ first order of business as they took control of the 116th Congress was introducing H.R. 1, the colossal “For the People Act.” This 571-page behemoth of a bill covering voting rights, campaign finance reform, ethics improvements, and more was a perfect reminder of just how much power the Constitution gives Congress to make elections better in this country and, sadly, of how partisan the question of election reform has become. By beginning with election reform as “H.R. 1,” Democrats signaled their priorities as they took over control of the House of Representatives. The bill now has 221 co-sponsors, all Democrats, including almost every Democrat in the House. It’s disheartening that bipartisan movement on election reform is no longer possible and that few of the significant improvements in the bill stand a chance of becoming law until Democrats have control of the Senate and the presidency. Even then some of its provisions could be blocked by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court. But if and when Democrats ever do return to full power in Washington, H.R. 1 should remain the top priority. Though there is room for some improvements, the “For the People Act” would go an enormous way toward repairing our badly broken democracy.
House Democrats have waited eight years to regain the speakership, and now that they hold the gavel, they will clearly seek to move on pent-up priorities. For their first act out of the gate, they rolled several into one. The “For the People Act” — or H.R. 1 — runs just over 500 pages and includes proposals the Democrats have pursued during their time in the minority, such as ethics reforms, campaign finance changes, and a well-publicized section requiring presidential candidates to hand over their tax returns. But the bill also lays out a vision for election administration in 2020 and beyond, putting the voter at the center of the process instead of focusing on what is easier for government. Congress taking the lead could cause some heartburn at the state level.
National: Here are the big election security measures in the House Democrats’ massive new bill | CyberScoop
A giant bill House Democrats proposed on Friday includes a number of measures aimed at improving election security and voter confidence. The measures in H.R. 1 draw on provisions from several bills that were proposed but failed since the 2016 election, which experts and officials concluded was targeted by a Russian-led influence operation. Key features include a requirement that federal elections be conducted with paper ballots that can be counted by hand or optical scanners, new grants that states and municipalities can use to improve and upgrade equipment, an incident reporting requirement for election system vendors and a number of other measures meant to keep election systems’ security up-to-date. Election security experts have criticized paperless voting machines because of their vulnerability to tampering with little recourse, since they produce no auditable paper trail of each vote. Such machines were used to some extent in more than a dozen states in the recent midterm elections, according to Verified Voting. In South Carolina and Georgia, voters sued the government under the premise that their votes aren’t being properly counted with paperless machines. The bill, also called the “For the People Act,” would statutorily do away with these machines for federal elections by 2022.
Editorials: Protecting voices of all voters is critical to free and fair elections | Paul Smith/The Hill
Popular sentiment for election reform continues to grow, and lawmakers in Washington are finally listening. On the first day of the new Congress, the House introduced its first bill. Its purpose is to protect the voices of all voters in the political process and restore trust in government. Given the troubling injuries to our democracy inflicted by several recent Supreme Court decisions, such legislative solutions have become sorely needed. These Supreme Court decisions over the years have chipped away at key safeguards, including the Voting Rights Act and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, both put in place to protect the integrity of our elections. This regressive trend has led to increased voter suppression all across the country and unprecedented dark money in campaigns. Together, they contribute to a sense that American democracy no longer functions.
Editorials: Democratic House will address most important civil rights issue in half century | Lawrence Lessig/USA Today
In its first act next January, the new House is scheduled to take up the most important civil rights bill in half a century. The bill signals a profoundly comprehensive understanding of the flaws that have evolved within our democracy. That it is scheduled first screams a recognition that these flaws must be fixed first, if we’re to have a Congress that is free to do the other critically important work that Congress must do. But that the bill is all but invisible to anyone outside the beltway signals the most important gap left in this most important fight to make representative democracy in America possible — if not again, then finally. The bill — denominated H.R. 1 — is a radically comprehensive and practical fix to all but one of the critical failures of our evolved system of representative democracy. Crafted primarily by Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), the bill recognizes that there are multiple flaws within our democracy and that these flaws must be addressed together.