Democrats have labeled their major election overhaul the “For the People Act” — but when pollsters talk to the people themselves, many say they would rather take a pass.
As the Senate prepares to vote on the legislation Tuesday, Americans are deeply conflicted.
Tell them the legislation is about “voting access,” paving the way for easier registration and more convenient opportunities to cast ballots, and Americans are enthused. But tell them the legislation also overrides states’ voter-ID laws or spawns a new taxpayer-funded financing system for federal campaigns, and that warm feeling fades.
“The bottom line seems to be that most Democrats and Republicans want to take the potential for election results to be questioned off the table. The problem, though, is they aren’t likely to agree on how to get there,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Monmouth released data this week finding 50% of those surveyed rated barriers to voting as their top election worry, versus 37% who said voter fraud was the big concern.
A large majority — 71% — said in-person voting should be made easier, while 50% said mail-in voting should be made easier. But at the same time, 80% said it makes sense to ask voters to show a photo ID.
The Senate bill sprawls across 888 pages — or 886 pages in the House version — and envisions a total overhaul of how states run elections. It would set standards in line with the most liberal or permissive states, though all states would be required to meet them.
Voters would be ushered into automatic registration if they use a government service, and states must allow same-day registration. Voting by mail would be a required option, with states unable to push for witness or ID requirements. Ballots could be counted if they come in after Election Day.
The legislation also would limit states’ efforts to cleanse names from voter rolls.
It would not ban voter ID but would impose a national workaround for those without ID that is more lenient than laws in many that require identification. It also would create an optional government-funded system for congressional campaigns.
A Democratic Senate aide acknowledged Monday that the legislation has almost no chance of clearing Congress this year. While legislation cleared the House on a near-party line vote, it is expected to stumble in the Senate, where there are just 50 members of the Democratic Caucus, and 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster.
“Senate Republicans will not provide 10 votes to break a filibuster for anything meaningful,” the Democratic aide said. “And our caucus is highly unlikely to end the filibuster.”
Democrats had been angling for an overhaul of the voting system for years. Indeed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed through a version of the sweeping bill in early 2019, a year and a half before the 2020 elections.
Still, it’s that election that has inflamed both sides.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Monday blamed former President Donald Trump for “despicable lies” that have sent state legislatures in Republican-controlled states on a mission to tighten voting policies. He characterized this week’s expected vote as a chance to fight back.
“My Republican friends are fond of saying they just want to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in an election, but when you look at what they’re actually doing, it’s spectacularly obvious that Republicans are making it harder to vote and easier to steal an election,” the New York Democrat said.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Democrats’ indignation and “debunked claims of racism” ring hollow.
He said Democrats “got the election outcome they wanted last fall,” taking control of the White House and Senate and holding the House, but they still want more.
“They’ve made abundantly clear that the real driving force behind [the bill] is a desire to rig the rules of American elections permanently in Democrats’ favor,” he said on the Senate floor Monday.
Like Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer, Monmouth’s polling found sharp differences in the way Republicans and Democrats approach the issue: 89% of Democrats say voting should be made easier, compared with 56% of Republicans. Support for voter ID is 91% among Republicans and 62% among Democrats.
Democrats in recent days appear to have decided the voter-ID provisions in their legislation create a vulnerability. Many high-profile left-wing figures have rushed to say they don’t oppose voter ID, though they have in fact labeled it “voter suppression.”
Overall, Monmouth’s polling tracks with surveys taken for groups with a vested interest in the outcome.
Convention of States Action, a right-leaning outfit, polled on how the public reacted when told the bill would overrule states’ voter-ID requirements and allow more “public funding of political campaigns.” Nearly 55% said they would be less likely to back a bill with those provisions.
Navigator Research, which specialized in left-wing causes, released a poll that didn’t appear to survey those issues, but instead focused on the expanded access parts of the bill. They found strong support for more disclosure of election spending, expanding voter registration chances, and restoring voting rights for felons after they serve sentences.
Michael McKenna, a pollster and former top legislative aide in the Trump White House, said the public doesn’t have a good sense for the contours of the debate and, like many issues, they like some solutions and don’t care for others.
He said eventually some aspects of the bill would bubble to the top and voters would decide what is more important, but that hasn’t happened yet.
“It is a hurried, ill-advised effort,” said Mr. McKenna, who also writes a column for The Washington Times.
He said lawmakers should take a breather and perhaps talk to state election officials about the bill’s implications.
One of those officials is Bill Gardner, the secretary of state in New Hampshire, who has held the office since 1976.
Though a Democrat, he has come out against the effort to federalize elections with sweeping mandates. He said there are other ways to boost turnout besides scrapping voter integrity measures such as ID.
He said in the 1990s, Oregon became the first state to conduct a mail election. Every voter was sent a ballot, and the secretary of state tried to get Mr. Gardner to do the same. Instead, New Hampshire relies on an absentee ballot system that requires a valid excuse. Those voting in person, meanwhile, are supposed to show ID, but if they can’t, as long as an election official at the voting place recognizes them, they’re allowed to cast a ballot, or they get their picture taken on the spot.
Mr. Gardner said that has worked out just fine — and by some measures, better than Oregon’s system. New Hampshire’s voter turnout has exceeded that of Oregon.
“This is factual information and you rarely see this,” he told The Washington Times. “People aren’t writing about this because the groups that have been going around the country telling people you have to make it easier and that is how we are going to get more people to vote, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”
• Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.