Black House members, for instance, are deeply uneasy over the bill’s shift to independent redistricting commissions, which they fear could cost them seats if majority-minority districts are broken up, particularly in the South. Before the bill passed the House, its authors spent significant time reassuring members of the Congressional Black Caucus that there were adequate protections in place to preserve their districts. But a prominent committee chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, remained so concerned that he voted against the bill, despite having sponsored it.
Some fixtures of the party establishment believe the small-dollar public financing plan, which sets a six-to-one matching program for donations under $200, could incentivize and turbocharge primary challenges, particularly from the far left, by allowing them to cut into incumbents’ usual fund-raising edge more quickly.
Then there is a more vexing political concern, voiced most clearly by Mr. Manchin but shared by others, that after Mr. Trump spent months falsely claiming that Democrats were cheaters trying to rig the 2020 election against him, some independent voters — fairly or not — will view the legislation as an attempt to do just that and punish the party in the 2022 midterms.
State elections administrators have raised their own complaints, too, quietly lobbying their senators to modify national voting requirements they say would be onerous or impossible to put in place by 2022. Some have complained they were simply not consulted on a major federal rewrite of the system they believe they have overseen effectively.
“I’ve been saying that no election administrators were harmed in the making of this bill,” quipped Charles Stewart III, a leading expert on elections at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Running elections is detail-intensive, and it’s not just shifting stuff around. You’re adding new features and adding complexity, not just shifting complexity from one place to another.”
Many say they support the goals of the proposal, but fear it overreaches in some places and issues contradictory orders in others. For instance, the legislation states that properly postmarked ballots that arrive as long as 10 days after an election must be counted as valid. But it also gives voters up to 10 days to correct mistakes on mailed-in ballots, meaning that late-arriving ballots with errors could delay certifying an election for up to 20 days. Some administrators believe that a 20-day lag threatens to cause havoc with schedules for formalizing election results.
Others say the measure, which requires all federal elections to start with an identical set of rules, ignores the reality in the scores of thousands of jurisdictions that oversee the vote. One Democratic state elections director said the early-voting mandates in the bill would require a county of 2,000 residents to keep polls open for 15 days, 10 hours a day, even for an off-year congressional primary that draws only a handful of voters.