The For the People Act Can Restore Our Democracy
Washington has never been more broken. Special interests have too much control and influence, American citizens are doubting elections and a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Four years of baseless and unrelenting attacks by former President Trump have certainly weakened the public’s faith in our democracy. He expedited this erosion of confidence and strength, bringing it to a boiling point on January 6. But it would be a mistake to overlook the damaging groundwork laid over the past decade by two disastrous Supreme Court decisions: the 2010 Citizens United decision, which gave wealthy donors and corporations a nearly unlimited ability to influence our elections and dictate policy, and the 2013 Shelby County decision, which gutted important voting rights protections afforded by the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
These two decisions created an environment that Trump and his allies exploited, and now is the moment to respond. We can restore our democracy with common sense reform to reduce the influence of money in politics, crack down on political corruption and protect voting rights to benefit everyone—whether you voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump.
A blueprint exists: H.R. 1, the For the People Act. This sweeping measure tackling voting, ethics and corruption was introduced in the House days before the January insurrection, and is set to pass in the House of Representatives today. It will soon be introduced in the Senate as S. 1, signifying its importance to Democrats in both chambers (it passed the House last session of Congress but was blocked in the Senate and denied a vote by then-Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell). The legislation represents the most far-reaching, comprehensive set of democracy reforms in a generation.
The bill would ensure our elections are accurate, secure and accessible by setting standardized rules for mail-in voting, expanding early voting and making it universal across states, implementing universal automatic, online, and same-day voter registration and eliminating partisan gerrymandering, while cracking down on voter intimidation and voter suppression tactics. These new rules would address many of the confusion and challenges voters faced when casting their ballots last November.
The voting rights measures in the For the People Act work in tandem with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), which restores key tenets the Shelby decision stripped out of the Voting Rights Act. Because the VRAA imposes unique requirements on select states, Congress must develop a detailed evidentiary record that directly links evidence of the current discriminatory conditions before it can pass the bill. It is imperative that this process begin immediately so we can pass the VRAA as quickly as possible.
The For the People Act would also address the destructive, corrupting dominance that moneyed and special interests have come to assume in our political system by ensuring money spent in elections is disclosed and transparent, cracking down on the coordination between candidates and super PACs and incentivizing candidates to raise money from small dollar donors rather than solely courting big donors. And it would strengthen the ethics guidelines and accountability measures that apply to the Congressional, Executive and Judicial branches of government to ensure our public officials are working for the American people and not special interests.
A healthy democracy requires that the key pillars that support it—voting, campaign finance, and ethics guidelines—are clear, functional and free from corruption. As we all saw in horrifying detail, these pillars have been gravely weakened, threatening the very foundation of our democracy. The imperative to act becomes greater every day: Republicans have already introduced more than 250 bills across 33 states that would restrict access to voting. That’s a sharp increase from nearly a year ago, when there were 35 restrictive bills pending across 15 states. With the For the People Act, this new Congress has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to repair the damage and restore the promise of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. They must seize it.
Tiffany Muller is President of End Citizens United and Let America Vote.