Voting should be accessible as possible for Americans. Elections systems should be secure. Citizens should know who is financing the political campaigns and ads they are encountering.
Those objectives led the U.S. House to pass the For the People Act of 2019 on Friday. At least, that is how its supporters see it. The resolution won approval by 234 to 193 vote, along party lines, of course. Congress remains sharply divided, as it has been for more than a quarter- century. Polarization is the prime reason the For the People Act will die in the U.S. Senate. That chamber’s majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, does not intend to bring it up for a vote, calling it a “power grab” by Democrats to retool elections in their favor.
McConnell’s stance further polarizes the legislative branch. The For the People Act is not perfect and needs the deliberative touch the Senate used to be known for, not outright dismissal.
The intransigence surrounding the proposal is not one-sided. As Rep. Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican, pointed out in a commentary for The Hill, the Democrat majority rejected all 28 amendments to the act — House Resolution 1 — offered by Republicans. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans, including Indiana 8th District Rep. Larry Bucshon, followed McConnell’s lead by cynically labeling the resolution the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”
In a statement on the House floor, Bucshon called the act “a radical attempt to hijack our free and fair election system and limit the voices of the American people.” It would “open the door for voting irregularities through federal mandates on voter registration and voting practices that will be forced on states,” he added.
Imagine the legislation could be handled without hyperbole. Imagine lawmakers of both parties acknowledging the value of an act that aims to expand early voting, reform the redistricting process that currently draws political boundaries to favor one party or the other, protect voters from being purged from registration rolls just for sitting out a couple elections, compels parties to identify to the public their big donors, and forces generators of political ads to ID themselves.
Why should lawmakers recognize those virtues in HR 1? Because Americans largely favor such changes.
It also would allow voters to register or correct their registration information on Election Day; reinstate voting rights to felons after doing their time; and provide a 6-to-1 match of small donations (under $200) to congressional and presidential candidates, using funds from a 2.75-percent increase on penalties paid by banks and corporations for acts of corporate malfeasance. The latter is aimed at counter- balancing the influence of super PACs and mega-donors on campaigns, unleashed by the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.
The act has flaws. The ACLU opposes its campaign disclosure provisions, for example. The ACLU argues that forcing nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood or the NRA to divulge donors’ names could “chill the speech of issue advocacy” of those groups in naming candidates when discussing hot topics. The ACLU also emphasized it supports many other provisions of the act.
Those good elements should keep the For the People Act alive in the Senate. Fortunately, Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, told Roll Call that he intends to unveil his version of the act next week, with co-sponsors from both parties.
That bipartisan effort — even in the face of resistance by McConnell and a likely veto by President Trump — should move the act forward.
More than 80 percent of Americans want a decrease in the influence of large campaign donors, a 2018 University of Maryland study showed. Nearly three-quarters of the public wants states to use an independent commission to redraw legislative districts, according to the Campaign Legal Center. It is time for lawmakers to roll up their sleeves, collaborate and address Americans’ concerns on these issues, and continued deliberations on the For the People Act is precisely the forum to do so.