Opinion: Are Democrats trying to do too much on elections?

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Ga., talks to the crowd during AIDS Walk Atlanta in Piedmont Park on Saturday, September 25, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Ga., talks to the crowd during AIDS Walk Atlanta in Piedmont Park on Saturday, September 25, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

As Congress returns to work from a Christmas break, you will hear a lot in 2022 about possible action on sweeping election and voting rights legislation.

Whether Democrats can actually pass something is another story.

“Some of my Senate colleagues are so steeped in making it harder for people to vote that they have apparently forgotten how elections in a democracy are supposed to work,” said U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Two separate bills are in play. There is a voting rights bill named after the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis, which would counter U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The other bill — over 800-pages — would set minimum voting process standards for states to use in federal elections.

Both have already been blocked by Republican filibusters.

“Voting Rights or the Filibuster,” asked U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, “which side are you on?”

Democrats don’t have 60 votes to break the GOP delays. And they don’t have 50 votes to use the ‘nuclear option’ to change the rules, unable as yet to persuade Senators Manchin and Sinema to undercut the filibuster.

The John Lewis bill is fairly straightforward. It amends the Voting Rights Act. But the election overhaul bill — known as the ‘For the People Act’ — is much broader.

The Democratic bill would set national rules for vote-by-mail, drop boxes, voter registration, early voting, make Election Day a national holiday, and much more. (One note — the Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to set rules for federal elections in Article I, Section 4.)

But the bill is not just about voting. There are major campaign finance and disclosure reforms. New rules against deceptive political ads. And most controversial of all is the creation of a system to give taxpayer money to help candidates finance their campaigns for Congress.

Also in the bill is a major ethics reform plan for the Supreme Court and federal judges. Lobbying disclosure reforms. Efforts to slow the revolving door in the federal government. New rules on Presidential conflicts of interest, and updated ethics rules for the Executive Branch.

Frankly, there’s so much in this bill that it would take a couple of columns to properly explain it. And maybe, that’s the problem.

In the past year, Republicans have criticized Democrats for trying to spend too much money, one reason for the stern GOP opposition to the Build Back Better plan.

In a sense, it’s the same thing on elections, as Democrats might be trying to jam way too much into one bill.

We’ll find out in coming weeks if it stays stuck in the mud of the U.S. Senate.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com