In The News

February 1, 2021

H.R.1, also known as the “For the People Act,” is a sweeping reform bill that aims to make voting easier, gerrymandering harder, and generally rein in the out-of-control minoritarianism that has come to characterize American democracy. Does it have a chance of becoming law? Rep. John Sarbanes, political scientist Jacob Hacker, and The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz join Ryan Grim to discuss.

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February 1, 2021

The recent article, “After record voter turnout, Republican-led states that flipped for Biden are working to change voting rules” (Jan. 31), is alarming, and it shows just how far many Republicans are willing to go in their anti-democratic fervor. This is revealed in their proposals such as eliminating “no-excuse absentee voting,” requiring “mail ballots to be notarized,” having “mail-in ballots be hand-delivered” and allowing “lawmakers to overturn presidential election results.” These are designed to impede citizens from voting and disrupt the election process. We should all be able to agree that fair, open and honest elections are vital to our democracy and that having 50 states and multiple counties with different systems is confusing and irresponsible. There is a better way this can be done while recognizing the Constitutional role states play. Introduced by Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, House Resolution 1 (For the People Act of 2021) sets up rules for voting modernization (including requiring paper ballots), blocking foreign interference, supporting Uniformed Service voting, cybersecurity, and campaign finance transparency. No one wants to see the recurrence of the anger, accusations and vitriol that marked this last election. We want citizens to participate in the process, knowing that all votes will be obtained and counted fairly. To get there, it’s time to update our election process on a national basis. HR1 does that, it’s worthy of our attention and support.

January 30, 2021

There is a bill in Congress now, H.R. 1, that seeks to make voting rules more uniform across the country including same-day registration and early voting. It would also establish independent commissions to draw Congressional district lines for the disclosure of high-dollar donors to political groups and obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns. The bill was originally introduced two years ago to fierce opposition by congressional Republicans.... Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, said “People just want to be able to cast their vote without it being an ordeal. It’s crazy in America that you still have to navigate an obstacle course to get to the ballot box.” It’s hard to see how having uniform voting rules across the country would help only the Democratic Party but this is one area in which the Republicans would certainly NOT want to see change. Republicans have managed over the years to set up Congressional districts that favor them over Democrats. Reapportionment is their golden goose — it makes it possible for Republicans to control more seats than would seem natural, i.e., there can be many more Democratic votes than Republican votes but there are more Republicans elected because of the district boundaries. That’s part of the reason Michigan voters agreed to set up an independent commission to establish districts in Michigan, and the commission gets to do its thing after the census is established sometime this year. It isn’t to say that Democrats didn’t fiddle with the districts when they had the chance, they did. But if you look around the country today it’s the Republican Party that is the main culprit in using reapportionment to keep their members in office. I’m not seeing any move to change election rules in Michigan, probably because reapportionment and same-day registration and no-excuse absentee voting are already on the books. Michigan has never had early voting and probably never will, but the system should still allow local election officials to start at least opening AV ballots before election day. It should really come down to this: Does a law make it easier to vote, or more difficult to vote. If voting is a sacred right of our country if the law makes voting more difficult, change the law. If it is easier, congratulations on enabling more citizens to vote for their favorite candidate.

January 29, 2021

Democrats who control Congress by narrow margins and the White House are making a fresh attempt to move forward a massive package that tackles dark money in campaigns, voter suppression and election security. The architect of the bill, Rep. John Sarbanes, said in an interview that the tumultuous 2020 election was a perfect example of why the U.S. needs reform. “A lot of people out there feel like their voice isn’t respected,” the Maryland Democrat said. “If we can get these changes in place it’ll create a lot more accountability in our democracy.” The 791-page bill, known as the For the People Act, was given the bill number of H.R. 1 by House Democrats to signify its importance, and it’s expected to pass the lower chamber for a second time. The sweeping measure would, among many other things, require states to put in place same-day registration for federal elections and allow 15 days early voting for federal elections; make states pay for postage on ballots and other election materials; and require states to adopt independent redistricting commissions to redraw congressional districts. On ethics, it lays out new requirements for both Congress and the executive branch, like mandating the public disclosure of tax returns by candidates for president and vice president and barring members of Congress from sitting on the boards of for-profit entities....  McConnell has called it a “terrible proposal” and a “power grab.” But Sarbanes said states that implemented early and mail-in voting for the 2020 election, because of the pandemic, helped increase voter turnout, and there are provisions in H.R. 1 that would require states to make those voting options available under federal law. “It turns out that a lot of the things we wanted to see (in H.R. 1) made voting easier,” Sarbanes said..... In 2013 the Supreme Court found a section in the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional in the case Shelby County v. Holder. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion that voter suppression was not as prevalent as it was in the 1960s and 1970s and “there is no longer such disparity.” The Supreme Court then instructed Congress to draft a new process to determine how the Voting Rights Act would monitor cities, countries and states based on current data. Democrats are poised to pass that piece of legislation, which is named after the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon, alongside the H.R. 1 package. “That was John Lewis’ number one effort for years,” Sarbanes said, adding that Lewis worked closely on H.R. 1. “We’re very excited that Lewis’ legacy is very present in H.R. 1.”

January 29, 2021

This week.... we welcome Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) to tell us about the comprehensive package of democratic reforms that he introduced in Congress, H.R. 1, the For The People Act. We talk about what this much-needed bill would do, and how he hopes his colleagues in the Senate might get it passed in the narrowly divided upper chamber.

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January 29, 2021

Members of U.S. Congress from Maryland sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) requesting more transparency about measures being taken to increase equity for the vaccine and for clearer communication with citizens in the state. U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Steny Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and David Trone (all Md.-D) were the ones who signed the letter to Hogan. Rep. Andy Harris (Md.-R) was the only Maryland congressional member not to sign the letter. The letter addressed how distrust of the vaccine in communities of color -- more specifically Black communities -- has been a major concern, and that overall communication during the vaccine rollout has been a worry. "Right now, there is dwindling confidence in the process and limited belief that vaccine access is equitable. Specifically, we ask the state to collaborate with trusted community leaders to quickly implement education and outreach plans to increase vaccinations in communities of color," says part of the letter.

January 28, 2021

All but one member of the Maryland congressional delegation have signed a letter requesting President Joe Biden posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, to the five people killed in the Capital Gazette shooting.... “Though their memories have been honored in numerous ways since the attack, including through the forthcoming National Memorial to Fallen Journalists, we concur with their families and former colleagues that they deserve our Nation’s highest civilian honor,” the congressional delegation wrote in the letter.... It would be a fitting tribute to their “eternal memory and to our entire Annapolis community,” if Biden awards them with the medal, Rep. John Sarbanes said in a statement.

January 28, 2021

In this episode, Larry Lessig speaks with Representative John Sarbanes, the architect of the For The People Act (H.R. 1). The two dive into the provisions of this critically important piece of legislation to fix our democracy, what to expect in the months ahead, and why they are optimistic about its success.

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January 26, 2021

Yet it would be a mistake to think the fight to preserve and revive our flawed democracy concluded on Inauguration Day. In fact, it has only begun. The Capitol siege was just the latest and most brazen instance of politicians leading efforts to delay democracy when it threatens their power — by suppressing the votes of political opponents, giving corporate funding undue influence over the people’s representatives and structuring Congress so that favored factions can hold on to outsize power. This trend is growing even more dangerous now that the coronavirus pandemic has made voting even more difficult, and toxic lies about election fraud have fueled further voting restrictions. In the words of Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), “this moment might be our last opportunity to shore up American democracy and prevent it from sliding further into a state of chaos, dysfunction, and billionaire-fueled minority rule.” Fortunately, the new Congress is already fighting to restore democracy. One of the first bills before the new Senate — submitted as S. 1 to reflect its importance — will be Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D-Ore.) For the People Act. The act is the Senate counterpart to the House’s For the People Act, a sweeping piece of legislation spearheaded by Sarbanes and passed in 2019. Both versions of the legislation would implement automatic voter registration, expand same-day voter registration and institute early voting nationwide. Also awaiting a vote in the Senate is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court struck down in 2013. Together, these bills would do more to protect and expand the right to vote than any legislation passed since the Great Society.

January 23, 2021

Congressional House Democrats plan to move quickly on one of the first bills of the new Congress, citing the need for federal election standards and other reforms to shore up the foundations of American democracy after a tumultuous post-election period and deadly riot at the Capitol. States have long had disparate and contradictory rules for running elections. But the 2020 election, which featured pandemic-related changes to ease voting and then a flood of lawsuits by former President Donald Trump and his allies, underscored the differences from state to state: Mail-in ballots due on Election Day or just postmarked by then? Absentee voting allowed for all or just voters with an excuse? Same-day or advance-only registration? Democrats, asserting constitutional authority to set the time, place and manner of federal elections, want national rules they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the nation. The bill would mandate early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject as federal overreach.... “We have just literally seen an attack on our own democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, referring to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. “I cannot think of a more timely moment to start moving on democracy reform.” The legislation first introduced two years ago, known as the For the People Act, also would give independent commissions the job of drawing congressional districts, require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors, create reporting requirements for online political ads and, in a rearview nod at Trump, obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns.... While Democrats control Congress for the first time in a decade, the measure’s fate depends on whether enough Republicans can be persuaded to reconsider a bill they have repeatedly rejected. If not, Democrats could decide it’s time to take the extraordinary and difficult step of eliminating the Senate filibuster, a procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation. Advocates say the bill is the most consequential piece of voting legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. House Democrats vowed two years ago to make the bill a priority, and they reintroduced it this month as H.R. 1, underscoring its importance to the party. “People just want to be able to cast their vote without it being an ordeal,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat from Maryland who is the lead sponsor of the House bill. “It’s crazy in America that you still have to navigate an obstacle course to get to the ballot box.” Current plans would have the full House take up the bill as soon as the first week of February. The Senate Rules Committee would then consider a companion bill introduced in the Senate, and a tie vote there could allow it to move out of committee and to the floor as early as next month, said Klobuchar, who is expected to become the committee’s next chair.