U.S. House passes voting rights bill with backing of Georgia Democrats

An official Cobb County absentee ballot drop box is displayed outside of the Cobb County Elections and Voter Registration Office in Marietta on Dec. 14.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
An official Cobb County absentee ballot drop box is displayed outside of the Cobb County Elections and Voter Registration Office in Marietta on Dec. 14. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The House, led by Democrats, also approved a separate policing bill

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House late Wednesday passed a sweeping voting rights measure and another that would alter policing laws. The bills, both Democratic priorities, passed on votes that fell closely along party lines.

All six Georgia Democrats joined their colleagues in approving both proposals, with the delegation’s eight Republicans all opposed. Each bill faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate, where the filibuster makes it nearly impossible to approve legislation that does not have bipartisan support.

On the House side, however, Democrats are often able to go it alone as they did in approving changes to federal elections, redistricting and campaign finance laws. U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams said ahead of the vote that she supported H.R. 1 in part because it could help offset proposals at the state level that could restrict voter access.

“H.R. 1, the For the People Act, will put a stop to the voter suppression that we see being debated right now in Georgia by taking an aim at the institutional barriers to voting,” she said. “H.R. 1 would also create national standards for voter registration because your ZIP code should not define your access to the ballot box.”

The bill passed 220-210 shortly before midnight with one Democrat joining all Republicans in opposition. That member, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, was concerned a provision that creates independent redistricting commissions in all 50 states could reduce the number of majority-minority seats, The Washington Post reported.

The For the People Act would also close “dark money” loopholes in campaign finance, require states to automatically register voters, restrict voter purges, and guarantee access to mail-in and in-person early voting.

Stacey Abrams, who created the voting rights organization Fair Fight Action, celebrated the bill’s passage late Wednesday.

“Voters in Georgia and across the country have suffered from state-sponsored voter suppression for too long,” she wrote on Twitter. “With tonight’s passage of H.R. 1, we will be closer to ensuring our elections will be fair and free — no matter your skin color or zip code.”

Democrats say they have no other choice but to implement federal standards while legislatures in many states, including Georgia, have launched efforts to limit voter access.

In Georgia, the state House voted Monday to approve a bill that would increase the ID requirement for absentee voting, curb access to ballot drop boxes and reduce weekend hours for early voting. The measure, House Bill 531, passed along party lines with every Republican in favor.

Meanwhile, state Senate Republicans are advancing bills that would bring an end to no-excuse absentee voting and require voters to submit a photocopy of their ID, a driver’s license number or other state ID number when requesting an absentee ballot on paper.

Republicans have said these changes are needed to boost confidence in the fairness of elections. Former President Donald Trump and his supporters claim that fraud and mismanagement contributed to his loss in Georgia, although multiple lawsuits have been dismissed for lack of evidence. Recounts have also confirmed Democrat Joe Biden’s win.

Democrats and voting rights groups say these proposals are intended to create new restrictions on voters after the Republican Party lost ground in Georgia this year. Biden carried the state in the presidential race for the first time since 1992, and Democrats won both U.S. Senate runoffs in January.

Republicans speaking against H.R. 1 said it was rushed to a floor vote and needed more attention from committees. They also said it infringed on states’ rights to determine how elections are conducted.

“Unfortunately, H.R. 1 flies in the face of our governors, our secretaries of state, our local election officials and, more importantly, the people of this nation,” U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, said in debate.

The House also voted Wednesday evening on a bill that sponsors say will address issues of police brutality and overmilitarization of police forces.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, H.R. 1280, was approved 220-212, with two Democrats joining Republicans in dissent. One Republican voted in favor of the bill, but that was by accident.

The measure would limit qualified immunity protections for law enforcement officers accused of abuse or assault, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, require federal officers to wear body cameras and implement new data collections for law enforcement interactions.

Republicans have been particularly critical of the qualified immunity provision, quoting agency officials who say that it will be difficult to recruit and retain officers if legal protections that shield them from lawsuits are removed.

HOW THEY VOTED ON H.R. 1, the elections bill, AND H.R. 1280, the policing bill

“Yes”

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta

“No”

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton

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