The For the People Act:
A Comprehensive Package of Democracy Reforms
The For the People Act is a comprehensive package of democracy reforms. Originally introduced in the last Congress, it languished in the Senate. It has now been introduced in both houses of Congress. The For the People Act — H.R. 1 in the House and S. 1 in the Senate — was designated as the first bill, a top priority this session. If enacted, it would be the most significant voting rights and democracy reform in more than half a century.
As Common Cause explains, this legislation “is a transformative package of reforms that will expand the right to vote, protect the right of every American to cast a ballot, reduce the role of big money in politics, shine a light on secret money, end racial and partisan gerrymandering, and curb the influence economy and conflicts of interest that have thrived in Washington for far too long.”
Key provisions are summarized below:
- Voting Rights
- Campaign Finance
- Redistricting Reform
- Election Security
The For the People Act would expand and protect the most fundamental right to vote and bring voting into the 21st century. The measures in this bill would:
Modernize Voter Registration, including:
- Automatic Voter Registration
- Same-Day and Online Registration
- Protect Against Flawed Purges
- Restore the Voting Rights Act to protect against racial discrimination in voting;
- Restore Voting Rights to People with Prior Convictions;
- Strengthen Mail Voting Systems;
- Institute Nationwide Early Voting; and
- Protect Against Deceptive Practices.
We need to overhaul the role of money in politics. Thanks in part to Citizens United v. FEC and other harmful court decisions, a small class of wealthy donors has achieved unprecedented clout in American elections. That distorts our democracy and undermines the will of American voters. We should pass reforms to counteract the worst effects of Citizens United and amplify the voices of everyday Americans in our campaigns. Some of the reforms would involve:
- Facilitating Small Donor Public Financing;
- Shoring Up Other Critical Campaign Finance Rules; and
- Overhauling the Federal Election Commission.
Extreme partisan gerrymandering is another threat to our democracy’s long-term health. We should require independent citizen commissions for congressional redistricting, outlaw partisan gerrymandering, establish other clear criteria for drawing lines, and make the redistricting process more transparent and participatory.
We must take critical steps to improve the security and reliability of our election infrastructure. The Act provides for:
- Replacing paperless voting systems;
- Promoting robust audits of election results; and
- Election system vendors oversight.
We must establish stronger ethics rules for all three branches of government. The For the People Act:
- Requires the president and vice president to adhere to the same broad ethical standards as the millions of government employees who work under them, consistent with voluntary practices to which every president going back to the 1960s adhered until President Trump took office;
- Requires the president, vice president, and candidates for those offices to disclose their tax returns, also consistent with longstanding voluntary norms;
- Strengthens the Office of Government Ethics, which oversees ethical compliance in the executive branch;
- Strengthens congressional safeguards against congressional conflicts of interest;
- Strengthens constraints on the “revolving door” between government and industry that prevent former officials from unduly profiting off their time in public service; and
- Requires a code of ethics for the United States Supreme Court.
The GOP is launching an attack on voting rights!
In a backlash to historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election, and grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities, legislators have introduced well over four times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to roughly this time last year. Thirty-three states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 165 restrictive bills this year (as compared to 35 such bills in fifteen states on February 3, 2020). (Brennen Center)
Thus far this year, thirty-three states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 165 bills to restrict voting access. These proposals primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) slash voter registration opportunities; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges. These bills are an unmistakable response to the unfounded and dangerous lies about fraud that followed the 2020 election.
Arizona leads the nation in proposed voter suppression legislation in 2021, with 19 restrictive bills. Pennsylvania comes in second with 14 restrictive policy proposals, followed by Georgia (11 bills), and New Hampshire (10 bills). New Jersey (NJ SB 3391) would eliminate permanent absentee voting lists.
Additional information can be found here: https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-2021-0
We need to defeat the dreaded filibuster!
Even though Democrats now have the slimmest possible majority in the Senate, McConnell can still block most major pieces of legislation with the filibuster, which was first widely used by Southern segregationists after Reconstruction to stop civil rights laws and which remains a key tool to obstruct popular majorities by requiring 60 votes to pass bills. As a result, GOP senators from 21 small states who represent less than a quarter of the population can thwart bills supported by a clear majority of Americans. After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, bipartisan legislation requiring background checks for gun sales was supported by 86 percent of Americans but blocked by 46 senators who represented just 38 percent of the country.
“In the 87 years between the end of Reconstruction and 1964, the only bills that were stopped by filibusters were civil rights bills,” writes Adam Jentleson, a former staffer for Harry Reid, in his new book, The Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy. Unless Democrats get rid of what President Barack Obama has called a “Jim Crow relic,” McConnell can use the filibuster to block legislation that would expand democratic participation and help reverse minority rule, such as bills recently passed by the House to restore the Voting Rights Act and make it easier to vote.