Democratic voting rights bill is a 'lifeline for American democracy': conservative law professor

Democratic voting rights bill is a 'lifeline for American democracy': conservative law professor
Voting booth attendants show Tech. Sgt. Rebekah Virtue voting literature at the Spouses' Club Spring Bazaar March 27, 2010, Eielson Air Force Base. The booth attendants were available to get people registered to vote and answer any questions they might have. Sergeant Virtue is a 354th Medical Group Family Practice NCO in charge.(U.S. Air Force photo by/Airman 1st Class Janine Thibault).

All over the United States, Republicans in state legislatures are pushing voter suppression bills — and President Joe Biden, on March 7, issued an executive order promoting voter access. Conservative law professor Kimberly Wehle, in an article published by The Bulwark on March 9, applauds Biden's "meager" executive order but stresses a lot more needs to be done to protect voting rights.

Wehle, who teaches at the University of Baltimore Law School and is a former assistant U.S. attorney, explains, "It's not time to be sanguine about American elections. Democracy remains in grave peril…. However, there's only so much a president acting alone can do to protect the right to vote. Elections are run by states, which have broad powers to manage their own voting processes."

Congress, Wehle adds, can protect voting rights at the federal level. And she applauds the Democratic voting rights bill HR 1, a.k.a. the For the People Act, as "a lifeline for American democracy."

"As of mid-February, lawmakers in 43 states had introduced 253 bills that would restrict voting access — a fourfold increase since the same time last year," Wehle observes. "Although many other pending bills would expand access to the ballot, some of the newer voter-suppression efforts are unabashedly obvious in their anti-democratic aims — such as a proposed Georgia law that would criminalize handing out food and water to voters standing in lines while reducing early voting days and ballot dropboxes."

HR1 has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, its fate in the U.S. Senate remains uncertain, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed his opposition to the bill.

According to Wehle, HR1 "would provide vital reforms" and protection against "the ensuing conflagration of voter-suppression bills in the statehouses."

"The federal law would, among other things, mandate nationwide same-day voter registration, require states to automatically register voters for federal elections; standardize voting by mail, allow voters with felony convictions to vote, overhaul federal campaign finance and ethics laws, tighten states' ability to arbitrarily purge voters from the rolls, and require states to use nonpartisan redistricting commissions rather than political gerrymandering to carve up congressional districts," Wehle notes.

The bad news, Wehle laments, is that HR 1 "has no chance of passage in the filibuster-controlled Senate." And she stresses that as president, there is only so much Biden can do to protect voting rights via executive order.

Wehle explains, "The executive order directs federal agencies to leverage existing online resources to educate people about how to register and to push out voter registration materials…. As great as education is, it does nothing to actually change voter access laws."

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