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Blockbuster voting bill winding its way through U.S. Congress

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As Georgia grapples with its controversial election reform, a massive federal voting rights bill has cleared a key hurdle and, If passed, would usher in the most comprehensive changes in the U.S. electoral system in more than a half-century.

The nearly 800-page H.R. 1 For the People Act of 2021 passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 3 and now goes to the Senate.

The bill aims to improve upon the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. Proponents say it would markedly improve how we register to vote and how we cast our ballot and run elections. It would provide greater access to voting, particularly for people of color, and would also reduce the influence of big money donors by creating a public financing system for campaigns and ethics rules for candidates.

Additionally, gerrymandering and restrictive voting laws could conceivably be history under HR 1.

Supporters say H.R. 1 would effectively supersede state laws, including those currently under consideration in Georgia and 42 other states that some are calling voter-suppression measures. 

The bill is massive, but here are the highlights: 

  • Requires states to offer online voter registration systems and same-day voter registration during federal elections. Local officials would also be required to automatically register eligible voters.
  • Curtails how states can purge voter rolls and mandates the U.S. Postal Service updates voter registration when people fill out change-of-address cards.
  • Require states to give all voters the option of voting by mail. It would call for 15 consecutive days of in-person early voting for at least 10 hours a day.
  • Ends states’ efforts to put more restrictions on mail-in voting procedures.
  • Requires states to let voters know seven days in advance of an election if their polling places have changed. 
  • Forces states to address the issue of long lines on Election Day. States would have to provide enough resources to make sure voters don’t have to wait more than 30 minutes.
  • Restores voting rights to felons who’ve completed their prison sentences. Georgia has one of the longest probation periods in the nation, which often prevents people who’ve served time from being able to vote.
  • Bans district maps that would unfairly favor one political party over another 
  • Improves election security by establishing standards for election vendors and rules for dealing with and communicating potential cyberattacks to federal authorities.

To view details and status of HR 1,read the summary here or read its history and context here.

(Header Image: The U.S. Capitol Building. Image by Louis Velazquez via Unsplash.)

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