In 2018, the Democrats won the majority of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. Following the victory, they introduced and passed the For the People Act as H.R.1.
The act’s goal was to restore voting rights, reform campaign finance laws, and enhance ethics enforcement. Now that the Democrats have regained control of the Senate, they will follow suit with the introduction of S.1, their version of the For the People Act.
According to the Huff Post, the House and Senate bills are nearly identical and contain a list of policies to protect, enhance and expand democracy.
Furthermore, the Acts’ policies would institute national standards for expanding votes, creating a system for publicly finances congressional elections, prohibiting undisclosed “dark money,” and forbid partisan gerrymandering.
Time is of the essence, now that American democracy is imperiled like no other time in modern history. The country needs to be restored and healed following the presidency of Donald Trump.
Trump’s sore ego has damaged American’s trust in a real democracy. Trump continued to spread baseless claims of a stolen election, culminating in a violent attack at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, which left five people dead.
“We have all been reminded in the starkest terms that government of the people, by the people, and for the people is not guaranteed,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) Merkley, the lead Senate sponsor of the For the People Act with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), said in a statement introducing the bill, “A violent assault on the Capitol is not the only way to attack democracy. Everyone who believes in our Constitutional vision should support reforms that make sure the American people are able to vote and that their government reflects their preferences and works for them.”
In 2019, Democrats prioritized these reforms due to the ever-growing influence of money in politics and the right-wing’s efforts to make voting more difficult—specifically harder for racial minority groups. There was also a growing threat of minority rule.
Democrats want to get right to it. The House bill, proposed by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Maryland) on January 4, could get voted on as early as January 28, a congressional aide reported.
Still, there will be some time before the bill moves to the Senate side.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) described the 2019 bill as “socialist” and blocked its Senate consideration. Now that a new majority is set in place, the legislation can get a full review—following Senate Democrat hearings in relevant committees.
The bill may also have to wait until Congress goes through with another round of COVID-19 relief.
The bill needs to receive 60 votes to stop it from being blocked by a Republican filibuster on the floor—unless Democrats decide to go through with ending the use of filibuster entirely or on a case-by-case basis.
It’s unknown if Democrats can quickly pass the For the People Act, and state-level Republicans are preparing to pass a raft of new voting restrictions in individual states, including Georgia and Texas. These States were tarnished by Trump’s widespread claims of voter fraud in the past November election.
The bill’s first section would institute national standards for voting in every state to expand access to voting ballots. It would also include requiring automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, at least 15 days of early in-person voting, “no excuse” mail-in voting with prepaid postage, online voter registration, and the restoration of voting rights to felons upon release from custody.
Furthermore, the bill would prohibit states from making it more difficult to vote by putting a ban on certain voter purge practices and imposing new penalties for deceptive electioneering. It would also require all state election systems to keep a paper ballot trail and other election security provisions.
The second section was primarily drafted by late Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), a civil rights icon. Lewis proposed these reforms as the Voter Empowerment Act in each Congress starting in 2012 until he passed in 2020.
Lewis incorporated them into the 2019 For the People Act—as a co-author alongside Sarbanes and many other Democratic lawmakers.
The bill also included the proposal to require every state to appoint an independent and nonpartisan redistricting board to draft new congressional districts after every decennial census, the Post reports.
The bill will also focus on campaign finance reforms and establish the first public financing for congressional elections. Candidates would get $6 for every $1 in funds stemming from donations up to $200.
Candidates will also be prohibited from raising money from large donors if they participate in the public financing systems. The bill creates a similar small-donor matching process for presidential elections.
Since “dark money” is problematic when it comes to political nonprofits on elections, the bill calls for transparency with its Disclose Act—which would ban “dark money” that comes from these political nonprofits. There is also an Honest Ads Act that requires the disclosure of digital and social media marketing buyers.
With this bill, the Federal Election Commission would be redesigned to go from six members to five to prevent deadlocks on important matters.
The bill also expands on ethics and lobbying laws to tackle long-standing abuses and those who clearly fall under the pervasive corruption under the Trump administration.
All presidential candidates would be mandated to reveal ten years’ worth of tax returns under the proposal. Also, neither the president nor vice president could have contracts with the U.S. government—unlike Trump, who had contracts for his hotel in Washington, D.C.