- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2021

A senior Democratic congressman broke ranks Wednesday night to oppose House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s signature legislation to overhaul how America votes, saying the bill wasn’t good for the constituents of his majority-Black district.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, who represents Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District centering around Jackson, was the sole dissenting Democrat when Mrs. Pelosi’s caucus late Wednesday passed the 791-page bill known as H.R. 1. The bill reworks campaign finance laws, expands mail-in voting and sets myriad rules for conducting elections.

“My constituents opposed the redistricting portion of the bill as well as the section on public finances,” Mr. Thompson said in a statement to The Washington Times. “I always listen and vote in the interest of my constituents.”

Mr. Thompson, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, backed an earlier version of the legislation in 2019. He co-sponsored the new H.R. 1 but said he was unable to vote for it.

The redistricting provision Mr. Thompson cited would require states to establish independent redistricting commissions to redraw congressional maps every decade.

Taking redistricting away from elected officials has long been a priority for more progressive members of the Democratic Party. They claim that partisan redistricting makes elections less competitive. Communities of color, however, have pushed back on that assertion, suggesting that independent redistricting would dilute minority voting power.

In 2004, the Alabama Democratic Party made exactly that argument before the Supreme Court, asserting that ending partisan gerrymandering would break apart minority-majority congressional districts — like the one Mr. Thompson represents.

Independent commissions, the party said, might help Democrats, but not necessarily minority candidates.

The second provision that Mr. Thompson said he couldn’t support would create a new public financing system for federal elections. The legislation stipulated that congressional and presidential candidates would receive access to taxpayer funds at a 6-to-1 matching basis provided they hit certain fundraising thresholds.

The proposed system was rebuked from both the right and the left. Republicans said it was an irresponsible use of tax dollars. The far-left, including the Green Party, argued that the thresholds for public funding were too high and would crush opposition from outside the two major parties.

Still, the Thompson defection surprised his colleagues, a Democratic lawmaker told The Washington Times on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Thompson is usually a reliable ally of Mrs. Pelosi. As chairman of the Homeland Security panel, he also was a staunch critic of former President Donald Trump’s questioning of the 2020 election.

The congressman is currently suing the former commander-in-chief for allegedly fomenting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to prevent the certification of the election’s results.

His opposition to the bill, which is titled the “For the People Act,” underscores just how embattled the legislation has become.

In the lead-up to the vote, Republicans lambasted the proposal for containing a bevy of liberal provisions. Some, including former Vice President Mike Pence, decried the legislation as a partisan effort intended to benefit Democrats at the ballot box.

The GOP, most notably, highlighted the fact that legislation codified a number of the practices that proved so contentious during the 2020 campaign. For instance, H.R. 1 would institute automatic voter registration for every citizen. It would further expand the use of absentee voting and mail-in ballots, which can be susceptible to fraud.

It would also guarantee voting rights for all felons, give statehood to the District of Columbia, and prevent local elections officials from updating voter rolls.

All of those provisions make the bill all-but doomed in the Senate. In that chamber, the bill will need crossover support from at least 10 Republicans to survive an expected filibuster. The 220-210 House vote, in which not a single Republican voted “yes,” suggests that this is extremely unlikely.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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