Comprehensive voting reform Democrats have been promising since reclaiming the congressional majority this year may finally be within our grasp.
HR1, or the “For the People Act,” re-introduced this January, seeks, in part, to:
- Include providing voters access to automatic and same-day registration
- Fully restore the VRA
- Allow a two-week early- voting window that includes evenings and weekends
- Create a small-donor matching system that provides qualified presidential and congressional candidates $6 in public funds for every $1 raised from small donors
- Close federal campaign disclosure rule loopholes
- Curtail foreign funds in U.S. elections
- Address issues at the Federal Election Commission (FEC)
- Guarantee states use independent redistricting commissions when drawing congressional districts whose members represent diverse communities
- Establish fair redistricting standards and mandate better transparency in the redistricting process
- Require states replace paperless voting machines
- Offer new grants to enhance election security
- Develop more effective systems for auditing disputed elections
- Implement new security requirements for election system vendors that includes a mandate to report cybersecurity breaches.
It passed the House 220-210 on March 3 with no Republican support and only one Democrat opposing.
Since then it has languished in the 50/50 Senate awaiting certain filibuster.
Senate Democrats last week rolled out S.2747–“The Freedom to Vote Act“–being hailed as the compromise necessary to get the bill onto President Joe Biden’s desk.
Karen Hobert Flynn, president of the progressive activist group Common Cause, explained:
“The negotiated framework in the Freedom to Vote Act represents a huge step forward for the people. It shows the Senate is working to find a path forward to get this landmark legislation signed into law. This legislation will strengthen our freedom to vote so that we all, regardless of political party, background, or where we live, have an equal say in the future for our family and community. The legislation leads to fair maps for Congressional districts and ending gerrymandering forever. It also makes important steps to curtail secret money in elections and encourage small-dollar donors to reduce the influence of big money. Every voter should call both of their US Senators now to say, ‘get the job done, protect the freedom to vote for the people.’”
The compromise, mostly to placate conservative West Va. democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who refused to support S.1, includes:
- A ban on partisan gerrymandering
- Universal no-excuse mail-in voting
- Automatic and election day registration
- 15 days of early voting
- Making Election Day a federal holiday
- Banning state election officials from employing unreliable methods intended to purge voter rolls
- Limiting corporations’ wealthy influence over political races and elected officials
- Improving election security to prevent foreign interference as we saw in the last two presidential elections
- Preventing voter intimidation
- Restoring voting rights to former felons
Unfortunately, a major concession to bill co-sponsor Manchin includes a voter identification requirement.
The bill’s sponsor, Minn. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Senate Rules Committee chair, stated:
“Following the 2020 elections in which more Americans voted than ever before, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country. These attacks demand an immediate federal response. [The bill] will set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in.”
Those national standards will combat draconian voter suppression laws republican-majority states like Texas and Florida are passing at breakneck pace in time for November in an attempt to prevent the 2020 turnout from ever happening again.
The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) is tracking hundreds of bills republican-led states are pushing to change ballot measure processes, restrict voting, criminalize peaceful protest, revoke authority from state courts and local election boards, and discard votes that aren’t for them.
In March, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation to strip election control from local and county election boards in order to impose new voter ID requirements, limit mail-in ballot drop boxes, reject entire ballots erroneously misdelivered to incorrect precincts, allow conservative activists to challenge voters’ eligibility, even criminalize distributing pizza and water to voters waiting in line for their turn to cast their ballots.
Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis followed suit.
Other restrictive bills have been signed in Iowa, Arkansas, and Utah.
Even though the prospects for passing the “Freedom to Vote” Act look promising, there is still the same old obstacle the Senate needs to surmount: the filibuster, a racist anachronism invented to placate a once-insatiable slave-holding South.
According to NBC News, President Biden will work to change filibuster rules to get this bill onto his desk.
Until that happens, though, the Senate needs a 60-vote “supermajority” to break republican intransigence.
If this fails to pass, it could mean the end of free and fair elections in a country that has always prided itself on them, for all their inherent flaws.
Image credit: The Old-School Patriot