Opinion: Did Democrats try to do too much in election overhaul bill?

As Democrats on Capitol Hill poked through the rubble of a massive election bill which was stopped by a GOP filibuster in the U.S. Senate, there was no obvious plan for what’s next.

“The fight for voting rights isn’t over,” declared U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock on Wednesday.

“This is not the end of our fight for voting rights but the beginning,” added U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee.

But unless Democrats eliminate the filibuster or suddenly come up with 60 votes in the Senate, that kind of talk might feel good — but it doesn’t get anything done.

Instead of a giant 888-page bill, some Democratic strategists quickly argued for a more focused approach on specific election procedure changes.

“Please break the voting rights bill that failed to pass (Tuesday) into smaller more discrete pieces as quickly as possible,” said Jim Manley, a former top Senate Democratic leadership aide.

“It should have happened months ago,” Manley added.

One obvious option was to drop language in the bill which barred the use of ‘Voter ID,’ an idea that had been ridiculed by Republicans, as it would overturn election identification laws in Georgia and 34 other states.

With a table of contents that runs 14 pages, it wouldn’t be hard to break up the Democratic plan, as much of the bill is not about issues like absentee ballots, voting by mail, or early in-person voting.

For example, the bill includes ethics and conflict-of-interest provisions for the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress, and the Executive Branch. The package also has lobbying disclosure requirements, campaign fundraising changes, new rules on Congressional redistricting, and much more.

Maybe the most peculiar part of this debate was how the 2020 election — and its controversial aftermath — had no impact on the bill from Democrats.

What was filibustered by U.S. Senate Republicans was written well before the wild false claims of Donald Trump about election fraud in 2020, and well before GOP legislatures in Georgia and other states approved a series of voting changes.

It was almost like 2020 never happened, as Democrats forged ahead with their original 2019 plan.

A central argument from Republicans against the Democratic Party effort was that Congress has no business telling states how to run their elections.

“Thank you to my Republican colleagues in the Senate for holding strong,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans, who blasted what he labeled ‘a federal takeover of our elections.’

But those kinds of statements ignore the plain text of Article I, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution, which expressly gives Congress the power to set rules for federal elections.

Congress definitely has the power to legislate in this arena. Whether lawmakers will use that power in 2021 is another question.

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