Senate Democrats Announce First Order of Business for New Majority: Fixing Democracy

January 19, 2021
In The News

After Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, they introduced and passed the For the People Act as H.R. 1 — the first bill of their majority. It aimed to restore voting rights, reform campaign finance laws and enhance ethics enforcement. Senate Democrats have now done the same after reclaiming the chamber majority with the introduction of S. 1, their version of the For the People Act. These nearly identical bills contain a suite of policies to protect, enhance and expand democracy, according to supporters. These policies would institute national standards for expanded voting rights, create a system for publicly financed congressional elections, ban undisclosed “dark money” and forbid partisan gerrymandering. But there’s more urgency now. American democracy is imperiled like at no other time in modern history; the country is coming off an election in which President Donald Trump refused to accept his loss. With the help of national and local Republicans, he launched legal efforts to overturn or nullify the voting results. These lies culminated in the violent sacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that left five people dead.... Democrats do not intend to waste time. The House bill, introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) on Jan. 4, could get a floor vote as early as Jan. 28, according to a congressional aide. But it may take longer for the bill to move on the Senate side.... There is a lot at stake in whether Democrats can pass the For the People Act quickly. State-level Republicans are already gearing up to pass a raft of new voting restrictions in states including Georgia and Texas, inspired by Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud in the November election. The states will also begin a new round of redistricting this year, which could cement Republican Party gerrymanders in dozens of states for another 10 years. The first section of the bill would institute national standards for voting in every state to expand access to the ballot. These include mandating automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, at least 15 days of early in-person voting, “no excuse” mail-in voting with postage prepaid, online voter registration and the restoration of voting rights to felons upon release from custody. The bill would also block states from making it harder to vote by banning certain voter purge practices while imposing new penalties for deceptive electioneering. And it would require every state election system to maintain a paper ballot trail, among many other election security provisions. This section was largely written by the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights hero. It was Lewis who first introduced these reforms as the Voter Empowerment Act in each Congress beginning in 2012 until his death in 2020. He incorporated them into the For the People Act in 2019 as a co-author along with the bill’s lead sponsor Sarbanes and many other Democratic lawmakers.