What Democrats put in their voting rights megabill — and what got left out

The bill would give the Department of Justice, private citizens and political parties, among others, the ability to bring lawsuits challenging congressional maps.

Undercutting some attempts to subvert elections

The bill also has sections that address attempts to subvert a federal election, mainly targeting attacks on elections administrators and the tallying of votes. One provision makes it harder to remove local election officials, giving a removed official the right to sue and the federal government the explicit ability to intervene in lawsuits to try to stop the removal.

The bill makes it an explicit crime to “intimidate, threaten, coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce” election workers “with intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with such official while engaged in the performance of official duties, or with intent to retaliate against such official on account of the performance of official duties.”

It requires the use of paper ballots in most voting systems, and requires that most voting equipment not be connected to the internet.

The bill adds a so-called “buffer rule” that requires poll watchers to not come within 8 feet of voters or ballots at polling locations, and it extends that buffer to ballots “at any time during which the processing, scanning, tabulating, canvassing, or certifying voting results is occurring.”

And the package also calls on state election officials to lay out a long list of rules on how election audits should be conducted, rather than the ad-hoc election reviews that Republicans initiated in a number of states after the 2020 election.

Publicly financing campaigns and requiring more ‘dark money’ disclosure

The voting provisions have gotten the most attention in this bill, but the legislation also proposes dramatic changes to federal campaign finance laws in the United States. It includes the DISCLOSE Act, which would force a slew of politically active nonprofit organizations — which can keep their donors secret under current law — to publicly disclose their funders. It would also apply disclosure requirements to groups that spend supporting or opposing federal judicial nominations, and it lays out firmer bans on foreign campaign contributions.

A separate section of the mega-bill, called the “Honest Ads Act,” would extend requirements for “stand by your ad” provisions — example: “I’m Zach Montellaro, and I approve this message” — to apply to more digital advertising, and it would generally require online platforms to keep a database of political ads purchased on them.

The bill would also create various public financing programs for House elections. One is titled the “optional democracy credit program,” allowing states to opt into a program that would provide voters a “democracy credit” of about $25 which they can give to a candidate. The bill, separately, creates a 6-to-1 public matching program for small-dollar donors to House candidates. Republicans have opposed these provisions particularly vocally.

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