(Reuters) – The democratically controlled US House of Representatives passed flagship electoral reform bill on Wednesday that aims to update voting procedures and oblige states to turn the task of redrawing congressional districts to independent commissions.
The law was passed with a largely partisan 220-210 vote.
The legislation, numbered “HR 1” because of the importance the Democrats place on it, “aims to restore the voices of Americans who have felt excluded and locked out for too long,” the original sponsor, Representative John Sarbanes, said in Comments outside the US Capitol prior to the vote.
The bill is one of many House Democrats will vote on at the start of Congress on a range of priorities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, police and the environment.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has said he would sign the bill if it cleared both the House and Senate.
But the bills face great odds in the Senate, where all 48 Democrats and the two Independents who meet with them would have to be backed by 10 Republican Senators to overcome a filibuster.
“We’re going to do everything in our power – I think Chuck Schumer will do everything in his power – to make sure that the agenda we are working on and that we have promised people is actually the agenda that we proposed have and hopefully pass, ”said Representative Steny Hoyer, Democrat No. 2, at a press conference on Tuesday.
Some Democrats have already lit fire on the filibuster and called for its removal. Hoyer called it “undemocratic” on Tuesday while James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat, described how it was used to deny black citizens rights.
An attempt to destroy the filibuster would meet fierce opposition. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has repeatedly said he would “never” vote to get rid of it, while Biden has said he refuses to overthrow it.
Some Democrats have suggested that a spin-off compromise might be possible.
When asked about the possibility of voting rights outsourcing, Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock told a reporter on Tuesday, “I think the issues are urgent enough to leave all options on the table.”
Democrats have argued that legislation is necessary to break down electoral barriers and make the US political system more democratic and responsive to voters.
But Republicans say it would take power away from states and not do enough to fight fraud, and the influential right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank has urged lawmakers to vote against it.
The bill is of particular importance this year as the US Census Bureau will pass population data, which states will use to redraw maps of the Congressional district, with the seat of each legislature in the House to be assigned, ahead of the 2022 election.
States use different criteria and methods for drawing the maps. In 33 states, state lawmakers control at least part of the process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Parties in control of state legislation have often exercised the power to draw the cards in a way that benefits the party in power. Some states have also used this process to target black voters.
The measure also comes from the fact that the legislature has introduced laws in 43 states to restrict voting more, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Several states, including Georgia, where Warnock and Democrat Jon Ossoff were elected in a political turmoil in January, have since passed laws changing electoral procedures, which activists say make it difficult for people to vote.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Clarence Fernandez)