Progressive groups this week are welcoming the reintroduction in the U.S. House of the For the People Act and heaping praise on the proposed legislative package's potential for sweeping democracy reforms in the face of relentless Republican Party hostility towards election protections and voting rights.
"It has become clear that we must shore up the defenses of our democracy by expanding access to the franchise, empowering the voices of everyday Americans in our elections, and upholding strong ethical standards in government. H.R. 1 contains reforms that address all three pillars," Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn said in a statement Monday.
HR1, which Congress just reintroduced, includes:— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) January 4, 2021
-Automatic voter registration
-A ban on gerrymandering
-Public financing of elections
-Support for DC statehood
-Plans to restore the Voting Rights Act
-A requirement that presidents disclose tax returns
About damn time.
Democrats Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Zoe Lofgren, both of California, introduced the legislation, H.R. 1, on Monday. It came a year to the day after Sarbanes introduced the measure—described by one advocate as "a no-brainer for anyone who actually cares about American democracy"—in the last Congress.
"During the 2020 election, Americans had to overcome rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering, and a torrent of special interest dark money just to exercise their right to vote," the lawmakers said.
"Across the country, people of all political persuasions—including Democrats, Independents, and Republicans—are profoundly frustrated with the chaos, corruption, and inaction that plague much of our politics," the Democrats continued, calling H.R.1 a "historic reform effort" that could "clean up decades of dysfunction in Washington, return power to the people, and build a more just, equitable, and prosperous country for all Americans."
Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer similarly framed H.R. 1, and urged members of Congress to pass the measure.
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"President Trump’s repeated attacks on the legitimacy of the election results and his unprecedented attacks on our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power demonstrate the urgency of moving quickly to enact H.R. 1," said Wertheimer.
"The 2020 elections saw billions of dollars in unlimited and often secret contributions provided by influence-seeking funders to support federal candidates," he continued. "The elections saw voting rights abuses that suppressed the sacred right to vote, particularly of people of color, and that interfered with the ability to vote successfully in person and by mail."
As detailed in a fact sheet from Sarbanes's office, H.R. 1 would boost "clean and fair elections" through measures such as automatic voter registration, banning "voter roll purges like those seen in Ohio, Georgia, and elsewhere," and simplifying voting by mail; ending "the dominance of big money in our politics" by exposing so-called dark money in politics and enforcing of campaign finance laws; and making sure "public servants work for the public interest" by taking actions including limiting the revolving door between Capitol Hill and corporate America and overhauling the Office of Government Ethics.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic triggered some democracy-strengthening changes over the past year such as increased voting by mail, said LaShawn Warren, executive vice president of government affairs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, but such changes may not be permanent. What's more, he added, "Far too many voters continue to face challenges and more reforms are needed."
A helpful pathway to such reforms is the For the People Act, said Warren, calling it "a significant step forward for transforming our democracy by expanding access to voting, taking big money out of politics, and cleaning up corruption in government."
"H.R. 1, together with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that restores the critical protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act stripped away in 2013, will move us closer to ending discriminatory voting practices against communities of color," Warren continued. "Our democracy works best when everyone participates, and Congress must pass both bills to ensure that everyone can."
Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center, and former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), similarly urged Congress to take action.
"The House of Representatives has already previously passed the bill, in the last session, and once it has done so again the Senate should take it up and approve it," said Potter. "When that has occurred, President-elect Joe Biden should sign it into law after he is sworn in as president, to create a truer, fairer, and more accessible democracy for all people."