“For the People Act” Explained
You’ve probably heard something about the “Voting rights bill” that the Democrats passed in the House. The Senate is about to take it up. What’s in it and what are some of the myths that are now being leveled against it?
The bill that the House passed is H.R.1 “For the People Act”. It passed along strict party lines. In the Senate it is called S.1 and it’ll be taken up in committee this Wednesday, March 24th.
It’s much more than a voting rights bill. It’s a desperately needed democracy reform bill. Vox.com compiled an excellent description of what’s in the bill, so rather than paraphrase, here is an excerpt:
- 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. (requires a separate resolution).
- Passes the DISCLOSE Act, pushed by Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats from Rhode Island. This would require 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.
Clearly, this is a pro-democracy bill that makes it easier for U.S. citizens to get registered and vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, promotes small donor campaign financing and ends “dark money” by promptly disclosing donations over $10,000.
Sadly, republican lawmakers in 43 states have introduced 253 bills to restrict ballot access, citing the need to assure Americans that elections will no longer be “rigged” — despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud in 2020.
So, republicans are eager to disparage and mischaracterize what’s in the bill. Here are some of their falsehoods:
- It uses your tax dollars to support candidates you don’t support. No, it uses criminal and civil fines and settlements with corporations that commit malfeasance.
- This is a democratic power grab that is anti-republican. Well, yes, it pushes back against GOP voter suppression laws. Sadly, the GOP is increasingly a minority rule party pushing an agenda dictated by its rich donors in addition to other constituencies: gun enthusiasts, anti-abortion folks and white nationalists.
- It’s an unconstitutional overreach of states’ rights. This set national standards for registration and voting. There are national standards for lots of things, and this is necessary to push back against current voter suppression tactics. Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution gives the Congress the power “at any time” to “make or alter” state election regulations.
- Same day voter registration invites fraud. More than twenty states already have same day registration. Proof of identity and residence are required and there are criminal penalties for fraudulent voting. Cases of fraud are far and few between.
Republicans in the Senate would happily use the filibuster rule to kill the For the People Act. Democrats call it necessary democracy reform and they can change or eliminate the filibuster rule with a simple majority. As majority leader, Chuck Schumer said: “Everything is on the table. Failure is not an option.”
Wisconsin United To Amend supports this major democracy reform bill and hopes you will too. Please educate your family and friends about it and hopefully together we can see it through. It represents an important step towards our goal of a Constitutional Amendment that would once again allow states and Congress to set legislative limits on campaign spending.