Democrats began pushing on Wednesday for the most substantial expansion of voting rights in a half-century, laying the groundwork in the Senate for what would be a fundamental change to the ways voters get to the polls and elections are run.
At a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders made a passionate case for a bill that would mandate automatic voter registration nationwide, expand early and mail-in voting, end gerrymandering that skews congressional districts for maximum partisan advantage and curb the influence of money in politics.
The effort is taking shape as Republicans have introduced more than 250 bills to restrict voting in 43 states and have continued to spread false accusations of fraud and impropriety in the 2020 election. It comes just months after those claims, spread by President Donald J. Trump as he sought to cling to power, fueled a deadly riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 that showed how deeply his party had come to believe in the myth of a stolen election.
Republicans were unapologetic in their opposition to the measure, with some openly arguing that if Democrats succeeded in making it easier for Americans to vote and in enacting the other changes in the bill, it would most likely place their party permanently in the minority.
who are spending tens of millions of dollars promoting it insist that the package must move as one bill. But Senator Joe Manchin III, a centrist West Virginia Democrat whose support they would need both to change the filibuster rules and to push through the elections bill, said on Wednesday that he would not support it in its current form.
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, Mr. Manchin said he feared that pushing through partisan changes would create more “division” that the country could not afford after the Jan. 6 attack, and instead suggested narrowing the bill.
passed the House 220 to 210 mostly along party lines, is the most ambitious elections overhaul in generations, chock-full of provisions that experts say would drive up turnout, particularly among minorities who tend to vote Democratic. Many of them are anathema to Republicans.
Its voting provisions alone would create minimum standards for states, neutering voter ID laws, restoring voting rights to former felons, and putting in place requirements like automatic voter registration and no-excuse mail-in balloting. Many of the restrictive laws proposed by Republicans in the states would move in the opposite direction.
The bill would also require states to use independent commissions to draw nonpartisan congressional districts, a change that would weaken the advantages of Republicans who control the majority of state legislatures currently in charge of drawing those maps. It would force super PACs to disclose their big donors and create a new public campaign financing system for congressional candidates.