Election Reform: Judge Sarbanes’ Proposal on Merit, Not Partisan Advantage

March 5, 2021
In The News

There has always something essentially quixotic in Rep. John Sarbanes’ “For The People Act,” its title as idealistic as anything found on its nearly 800 pages of content. In sum, what H.R.1 attempts to do is fix much of what is broken in this nation’s election system, chiefly by making voting more accessible, ending partisan redistricting, raising ethical standards, and exposing and reducing the influence of big money in politics. Americans should be celebrating its passage in the U.S. House of Representatives late Wednesday and giving thanks to the 58-year-old Maryland Democrat, the eldest son of the late Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who has made this worthy cause a personal crusade. Don Quixote may have tilted at windmills, but John Sarbanes went after something real and far more daunting: a political system that runs on money and disenfranchises far too many Americans. Yet, this remarkable achievement has, unfortunately, if predictably, fallen into partisan tooth gnashing and gross over-simplification. Republicans have reduced these sweeping reforms to one unifying idea — that it’s a reckless power grab by Democrats.... There is an undeniable public good in removing barriers to voting and establishing national voting rights standards. No-excuse mail voting, early voting, automatic voter registration, returning rights to felons who have served their time, these have broad societal benefits. And, as the last election demonstrated (and was confirmed by dozens of legal challenges), they do not give rise to rampant voter fraud.... Granted, democracy is difficult. Politics are tough. But if Republicans are going to continue to look at the last election as some kind of scandal because so many more Americans were able to participate or, worse, make outrageous and false claims about fraudulent voting schemes (the kind that some people take seriously enough to stage an assault on our most sacred temple to democracy), they are going to encounter a lot worse problems than how their own congressional districts are drawn. Mr. Sarbanes may not defeat any ferocious giants on this day, but perhaps he will inspire others to take up the worthy cause of voting rights. They are certainly plenty of state houses where these essential democratic ideas are under attack from those who would benefit from turning back the clock and returning (or retaining) power among the privileged.