Legislation “For the People”

House Democrats Pass Landmark Voting Rights Bill

Aidan Sun, News Editor

On March 3, House Democrats passed sweeping legislation to fight Republican efforts to restrict voting access in almost every state. The bill, which passed strictly along party lines, aims, when put simply, to expand access to voting, ban partisan redistricting, end certain campaign finance practices and increase election security. 

HR 1 or the “For the People Act,” as some have referred to it, has been pushed urgently by progressives after Republican state legislators across the country have introduced at least 253 state bills in 43 states so far this year with provisions designed to limit access to voting and increase the legislature’s ability to control elections. 

These state bills, progressive groups and other watchdogs claim, will greatly suppress voting nationwide and threaten the integrity of election results. They also say that provisions have been specifically written to target forms of voting overwhelmingly popular among people of color and young people, the backbone of the Democratic party, in what some have called “modern Jim Crow.” 

Absentee ballots, also referred to as mail-in ballots, have been a major target of Republican lawmakers who, by repeating unsubstantiated claims that mailed ballots are prone to voter fraud, have written laws to ban or restrict access to these ballots which proved popular, especially among Democratic voters this past November due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Republican state lawmakers are also attempting to shorten early voting periods, specifically targeting early voting on Sundays, which Democrats argue targets Black voters who oftentimes vote after attending church on Sundays through “Souls to the Polls” programs. Other bills include provisions to, among other things, increase voter I.D. requirements, close certain polling locations and shorten in-person voting hours on Election Day. 

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law SB 202 on March 25 which has sparked an outcry among Democrats in recent weeks due to its accomplishment of the above Republican goals. The bill also gave the Georgia state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, more power over the State Board of Elections which, as progressive leaders claim, essentially allows the legislature to overturn the results of elections. 

The bill also triggered backlash on social media for a provision banning food or water from being handed out to people waiting in voting lines. Major corporations including Coca-cola and Delta Airlines, which have major business centers in the state, have publicly condemned SB 202. The MLB also made headlines on April 2 announcing it would be moving the MLB All-Star Game and Draft out of Atlanta in response to the bill. 

Despite the threat of further boycotts and outrage from the public, Republican efforts in Georgia and in other states have continued. Efforts in statehouses nationwide to hamper voting comes on the cusp of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election by spreading baseless and dangerous claims about election integrity and voter fraud. 

Capitalizing on increased anger among Trump voters surrounding the 2020 election, Republicans hope they can disguise forms of voter suppression by framing them as a response to the “Big Lie” and aid in their fight to win back both houses of Congress in 2022 and help the 2024 Republican nominee, presumably Trump, beat President Joe Biden. 

Democrats drafted HR 1 with these Republican efforts in mind. Included are a multitude of proposals designed to nix state restrictions on voting access and voting rights. The bill would mandate automatic voter registration to those who qualify, mandate same-day voter registration availability, expand online voter registration, restore voting rights to felons upon completion of their sentence and establish criminal offenses for those who “corruptly hinder, interfere with, or prevent another person from registering to vote.” Notably, the For the People Act would also make Election Day, the first Tuesday of November, a federal holiday. 

Provisions to increase election security, increase transparency in campaign finance and install new ethics guidelines for federally-elected officials are also included in the bill. 

Further alarming Democrats, reports have shown that Republicans can win back the House in 2022 through partisan gerrymandering alone increasing urgency among the party to pass legislation through HR 1 aimed at preventing this from occurring. 

HR 1 hopes to prevent the partisan gerrymandering that could result in overwhelming Republican victories in 2022 by banning the practice, requiring states to appoint non-partisan commissions to draw congressional districts. 

In national polls done by Data for Progress, 67% of Americans said they support the bill including 56% of Republican voters. However, Republican lawmakers in Washington D.C. have mounted staunch and united opposition both to the For the People Act and any change to filibuster rules that might help in the passage of HR.1. 

“This is clearly an effort by one party to rewrite the rules of our political system, but even more immediately it would create an implementation nightmare … that would drown state and local officials,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. said. 

Reforming or abolishing the filibuster appears to be Democrats’ only hope of passing this piece of legislation as even the most moderate of Republican senators have voiced opposition to the bill. After the passage of SB 202, Democrats’ urgency to end current filibuster practices only increased. Already, the White House and other Democratic leadership have called for filibuster reform to officially make the bill law by passing it through the Senate, there being referred to as S 1. 

“The 253 other bills across 43 states that restrict voting access are a direct attack on our democracy,” tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. “Republicans are fighting for a new era of Jim Crow. The solution is clear: we have to abolish the filibuster and pass HR 1. now.” 

However, as the bill enters debate in Senate committees and until Democratic leadership can unite the caucus in favor of filibuster changes, Senate Democrats face a looming stalemate over the For the People Act and other pieces of legislation key to accomplishing the Biden agenda.