By the People, For the People

The time is ripe for Congress to enact H.R.1 so that our right to vote is valued and administered as it was intended to be.

by Susan E. Stutz

Three women holding up "we the people" postersThree women holding up "we the people" posters

Womens March 2017, Washington D.C.

When the United States came into being in 1776, there were only three other countries in the world who had declared themselves free from monarchical rule. Those were the Netherlands who broke from Spain in 1581 (the Kingdom of Holland was later established in 1806), Switzerland who left the Holy Roman Empire in 1648, and England who was trying its hand at existing without a monarch for the first time in more than 800 years following the execution of King Charles I in 1649 (the British monarchy was restored in 1660). Despite declaring their independence, none of the three were a democracy as we understand that term today. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, America’s democratic system was unique to her alone.

In 1776, all power rested in the hands of land-owning white men. It would be another 200 years before all U.S. citizens over the age of 18, including people of color, women, and those with disabilities, would have access to the ballot. We have ratified 5 constitutional amendments and enacted the Indian Citizenship Act, Civil Rights Act, the Federal Voting Rights Act, and the Federal Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act; however, voting rights remain as much under attack now as they have been since the right was recognized for all.

According to Pew Research, more than 158 million people voted in the general election which equates to roughly ⅔ of all eligible voters in the country. This was the highest voter turnout in at least 40 years (the limits of their research) and is an especially staggering number when you consider the impact of the pandemic. Democrat and Republican led states alike went to enormous lengths to insure that its residents would be able to vote. Some states automatically sent vote-by-mail applications or ballots to all registered voters, excuse-only absentee voting was eliminated or revised in many states to provide for voters’ concerns over COVID-19, drop-boxes were set up across the country, and individual election officials did everything they could to make their polls safe for voters who opted to cast their ballot in person. One would think that a nation whose tagline is “land of the free'' would embrace an increased voter turnout no matter what the result. But, that is not now, nor has that ever been the reality of voting in the good ole USA.

As of today, there are 2,259 vote-related bills pending in 47 states. Of that, 250 seek to suppress voter participation. Many of these bills rely on the false allegations by Trump and his henchmen of voter fraud. Trump and company filed 64 lawsuits (most were dismissed and or lost) without producing a single piece of evidence in support of their lies. With Trump at the helm, the relationship between the GOP and the truth no longer exists. Their aim is to sow doubt and it does not matter whether their claims are true or false. They care for power not facts. Period.

But, there is one piece of legislation that could thwart the intent of those 250 voter suppression bills and change the voting landscape in America for the better. Let us introduce you to H.R.1. For the People Act of 2021.

Here is what H.R.1 hopes to accomplish:

  • Address voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government.
  • Expand voter registration (e.g., automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (e.g., vote-by-mail and early voting) and limit purging voters from voter rolls.
  • Require states to establish independent commissions to carry out congressional redistricting.
  • Shore up election security by sharing intelligence information with state election officials, supporting states in securing their election systems, developing a national strategy to protect U.S. democratic institutions, establishing in the legislative branch the National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions, and other provisions to improve the cybersecurity of election systems.
  • Address campaign finance, by expanding the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals, requiring additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending, requiring additional disclaimers regarding certain political advertising, and establishing an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices.
  • Address ethics in all three branches of government by requiring a code of conduct for Supreme Court Justices, prohibiting Members of the House from serving on the board of a for-profit entity, and establishing additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for federal employees and the White House.
  • Require the President, the Vice President, and certain candidates for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns.

Originally sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland’s 3rd District, this piece of legislation now has 222 sponsors and on March 3rd, H.R.1 passed the House along party lines in a vote of 220 to 210.

These are the ways in which the bill will accomplish some of the tasks listed above:

  • Automate voter registration by including registration as a part of eligible voters applying for or renewing a driver’s license or state ID, college application at a public university, or for social services. Individuals would have to proactively opt out of registering to vote when interacting with these state agencies. This has the potential to add 50 million voters to the rolls.
  • Establish same day and online voter registration. This would eliminate the onerous paper process which is currently in effect in more than half of all states.
  • Protect voters against discriminatory voter-roll purge practices which has disenfranchised millions of voters in recent years.
  • Commit to reinstating the provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Without the protections afforded by the VRA, the 2018 midterm elections were marred by the most shameless voter suppression efforts in decades.
  • Restore voting rights to returning citizens. Civic participation is key to reintegrating back into society after a period of incarceration.
  • Strengthened vote by mail systems by creating standards which all states must meet.
  • Establish early voting periods in every state giving voters more options to cast a ballot.
  • Eliminate prolonged wait times at the polls on Election Day.
  • Protect voters by establishing more severe penalties for promoting false or misleading information and voter intimidation practices and empowering voters to look to the courts in order to stop voter deception practices.
  • Outlaw partisan gerrymandering by establishing uniform guidelines for redistricting including provisions aimed to protect neighborhoods of color and committees at the state level charged with drawing legislative maps.
  • The Bill also includes ethical standards for all three branches of government including safeguards against conflicts of interest, bars former members of Congress from unduly benefiting from their time in office.

There is an awful lot to take in in H.R.1, and the time is ripe for Congress to enact these measures so that our right to vote is valued and administered as it was intended to be. H.R.1 has passed the House and will go on to the Senate. McConnell is no longer the Majority Leader which means that this piece of legislation will not fall victim to his legislative graveyard.

What You Can Do

Send hr1 to 50409 to sign the most popular H.R.1 petition on Resistbot, or senateContact your senators in the U.S. Senate to write your own, and lobby your officials on the merits of passing H.R.1. We're also tracking Senators' positions on the whipSee key positions of your Senators. keyword. Remind them that it is your vote that enabled their service to the American people in the first place and that voting is a sacred right in the United States that will not be destroyed by officials who are more interested in their political party than they are in people.

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