As Republican state lawmakers across the country propose measures that would limit access to voting, Congressional Democrats are pushing sweeping legislation to expand voter access, setting up a national battle over voting rights ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
The House, led by Democrats, passed last Saturday one of the most sweeping election reform measures introduced in Congress in decades. It includes same-day voterregistration and expanding early voting.
The For the People Act, also known as H.R. 1, was first introduced and passed in 2019 during the last Congress and reintroduced by Rep. John Sabranes, D-Md.
The bill passed 220-210, with one Democrat joining all voting Republicans to oppose the bill. Two Republicans did not vote.
In a statement, Sabranes said the “2020 election underscored the need for comprehensive, structural democracy reform. Americans across the country were forced to overcome rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special-interest dark money just to exercise their vote and their voice in our democracy.”
The bill had no chance of becoming law when Republicans controlled the Senate, with then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling it a “terrible bill” and not giving it any floor time. Now with a 50-50 Senate, and Senate Democrats in control, it has somewhat of a higher chance of making it to President Joe Biden’s desk.
What’s in the bill
The For the People Act weighs in at close to 800 pages. Broadly, it can be broken down into three buckets: expanding voting rights, implementing campaign finance reform, and beefing up ethics laws for members of Congress.
Here are some major points in the bill, broken down by category:
- Creates new national automatic voter registration that asks voters to opt out rather than opt in, ensuring more people will be signed up to vote. Requires chief state election officials to automatically register eligible unregistered citizens.
- Requires each state to put online options for voter registration, correction, cancellation, or designating party affiliation.
- Requires at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections; early voting sites would be open for at least 10 hours per day. The bill also prohibits states from restricting a person’s ability to vote by mail, and requires states to prepay postage on return envelopes for mail-in voting.
- Establish independent redistricting commissions in states as a way to draw new congressional districts and end partisan gerrymandering in federal elections.
- Prohibits voter roll purging and bans the use of non-forwardable mail being used as a way to remove voters from rolls.
- Restores voting rights to people convicted of felonies who have completed their sentences; however, the bill doesn’t restore rights to felons currently serving sentences in a correctional facility.
- Establishes public financing of campaigns, powered by small donations. This has long been Sarbanes’s vision: The federal government would provide a voluntary 6-1 match for candidates for president and Congress, which means for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations, the federal government would match it six times over. The maximum small donation that could be matched would be capped at $200. This program isn’t funded by taxpayer dollars; instead, the money would come from adding a 4.75 percent fee on criminal and civil fines, fees, penalties, or settlements with banks and corporations that commit corporate malfeasance (think Wells Fargo).
- Supports a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United.
- Passes the DISCLOSE Act, pushed by Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats from Rhode Island. This wouldrequire super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make their donors public.
- Passes the Honest Ads Act, championed by Sens. Klobuchar and Mark Warner (VA), which would require Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of money for political ads on their platforms and share how much money was spent. (A Facebook spokesman told Vox the company has publicly supported Honest Ads Act since 2018).
- Discloses any political spending by government contractors and slows the flow of foreign money into the elections by targeting shell companies.
- Restructures the Federal Election Commission to have five commissioners instead of six, in order to break political gridlock at the organization.
- Prohibits any coordination between candidates and super PACs.
- Requires the president and vice president to disclose 10 years of his or her tax returns. Candidates for president and vice president must also do the same.
- Stops members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment or discrimination cases.
- Gives the Office of Government Ethics the power to do more oversight and enforcement and implement stricter lobbying registration requirements. These include more oversight of foreign agents by the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
- Creates a new ethics code for the US Supreme Court, ensuring all branches of government are impacted by the new law.