- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2019

Congressional Democrats say they have just the solution for Russia’s nefarious activities in the 2016 presidential election, which special counsel Robert Mueller warned the country about Wednesday.

They are pushing a massive bill to overhaul nearly everything about the way campaigns and elections work, from making voting easier to making stopping voter fraud harder, while trying to reel in some of the cash that has been spent to win seats in Congress.

The bill, dubbed the For the People Act, cleared the House on a strict party-line vote in March and is going nowhere in the Senate, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling it an affront to free speech and a government takeover of state elections.

Democrats have started calling Mr. McConnell the “grim reaper” for refusing to take up partisan bills that have cleared the House — but bowing to reality, they have said they’ll try to cut the For the People Act into smaller chunks, hoping at least some of them can earn Republicans’ support.

“I am prepared to bring to the floor and pass individual bills to address the reforms included in the For the People Act,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told Politico.

But it’s not clear which parts of the massive overhaul might be attractive to the GOP.

The package would create a national standard for voting, require some states to start automatic voter registration, and push back against political gerrymandering by urging nonpartisan commissions to draw congressional district maps.

It also would create a public financing system for candidates, impose new disclosure requirements for websites and lobbyists, and overhaul the Federal Election Commission.

John Fortier, director of governmental studies at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said it’s not likely that Republicans will buy into any of those ideas.

“It’s not just the accumulation of all of them together that was holding this back. I think that most of the specifics are also unpopular with Republicans,” he told The Washington Times.

Mr. McConnell has said if Congress wants to tackle election reform, he would target ballot-harvesting — the practice of having someone pick up absentee ballots from voters, then file them with state officials.

That practice is illegal in most states, and ballot harvesting on behalf of a Republican candidate in a North Carolina congressional race led to the cancellation of the results and a do-over.

But ballot harvesting is legal in California, and Republicans say it’s responsible for a wipeout of GOP lawmakers in formerly friendly Orange County.

Mr. Fortier said Democrats may have better luck trying to find common ground on election security — the issue Mr. Mueller specifically highlighted this week.

But Mr. Fortier said that likely will have to be at the state level.

“I don’t think a federal bill — I don’t think we’re going to see that get through,” he said.

Elaine Karmarck, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Management, was more optimistic that the GOP can find some areas of agreement.

“There’s a lot of stuff in there that Republicans can sign on to,” she said. “There’s always some subset that will move with the Democrats.”

Rep. Derek Kilmer, chairman of the moderate New Democrats coalition, said this week on Reddit, an online forum, that Democrats will pursue parts of the For the People Act that they know have bipartisan backing.

He said greater transparency for digital political ads could be one avenue. His bill was reintroduced this month with 13 Republican co-sponsors.

Ms. Karmarck said the Democrats’ divide and conquer strategy is a smart political play. Breaking down the bill makes it easier for their constituents to work with, while putting Republicans in a tough position.

“Breaking it up is going to do one of two things: either some of it will pass and become law or it will force Republicans to vote against reform,” she said.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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