Everything You Need To Know About H.R.1 And The Fight for Voting Rights
The critical stress test of any democracy is the ease with which its people are empowered to vote and participate in free and fair elections. It’s a promise enshrined in the Constitution that the United States has increasingly failed to deliver to its electorate. For several decades, American elections have averaged a turnout of 55.7%, a voter participation rate that lags behind most of the developed world.
Safeguarding voting rights and ensuring fair elections have long been priorities of the Democratic party’s platform. Now that 2020’s historic turnout swept Trump out of office and delivered a split Senate to Democrats, all eyes are on the passage of House Resolution 1 (H.R.1), a massive effort to advance pro-voter policies and democratic reform.
What is H.R.1?
House Democrats have already passed H.R.1, otherwise known as the For the People Act. It’s a nearly 800-page piece of legislation designed to shore up voting rights and curb the influence of money in politics. H.R.1 has been around since Dems first took back the House majority in 2018 but the bill died a quick death in the Senate in 2019. Now that Mitch McConnell (KY) is no longer Senate majority leader, Democrats have a narrow window of opportunity to make this legislative priority a reality.
Polling shows the bill is widely popular with the public, but it faces opposition in the Senate. Despite the fact that Vice President Harris holds the tie-breaking vote in the split Senate, the For the People Act won’t survive existing filibuster rules that require a 60 vote majority to pass legislation. Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN), the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, has been charged with marking up the bill and advancing it to the floor. Hearings on H.R.1 are expected to start on Wednesday, March 24th.
Why is the For the People Act important?
While legislation to advance voting rights is a non-partisan issue both parties in a democratic country should support, it’s become a bone of contention among Republicans. Panicked by unprecedented turnout in the 2020 election that saw them lose both the Senate majority and the Presidency, the GOP has decided to resort to the same playbook that’s delivered them minority rule throughout the South for decades. From gerrymandering to voter ID laws, Republicans are pushing through a wave of new Jim Crowesque legislation across the United States that specifically targets communities of color. Critics say if these restrictive laws are allowed to stand unchallenged, they’ll usher in a new era of segregation and cement minority rule.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 43 states have introduced over 250 bills to restrict voting access and limit protections for minority voters across the country. Particularly contentious voter suppression bills have cropped up in the Republican-controlled legislatures, including those in Arizona and Georgia where Democrats carved out narrow victories in recent presidential and midterm elections. Without national enforcement of voting protections, the promise of free and fair elections hangs in the balance.
What protections are included in the For the People Act?
While the goal of H.R.1 is to protect voting rights, this 800-page piece of legislation also encompasses three pillars of reform to ensure fair elections. These include specific actions to expand voting rights, implement campaign finance reform, and put teeth into ethics laws for members of Congress.
Here’s a rundown on the specifics you’ll find in the For the People Act:
H.R.1 expands voting rights by…
- Creating automatic voter registration that requires people to opt-out instead of opt-in
- Requiring each state to have an online portal for voter registration
- Requiring each state to open early voting in federal elections for 15 consecutive days and early voting sites to be open for ten hours a day
- Specifying each state can not restrict access to voting by mail or require certain conditions to be met to qualify to vote by mail
- Establishing independent redistricting commissions to end partisan gerrymandering
- Prohibiting voter roll purges
- Restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have served their sentences
H.R.1 addresses campaign finance reform by…
- Establishing public financing of campaigns through fees assessed for corporate malfeasance where small donations would be matched and then capped at $200
- Supporting a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United
- Passing the DISCLOSE Act which requires PACs to make donors public
- Passing Honest Ads Act which requires social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to disclose campaign ad spending and sources
- Disclosing political spending by government contractors to address foreign money in elections coming from shell companies
- Restructuring the Federal Election Commission to have five members instead of six to reduce gridlock
H.R. 1 strengthens ethics rules for members of Congress by…
- Requiring the President and the Vice President as well as any candidates for those offices to release ten years of tax returns
- Prohibiting members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment or discrimination claims
- Providing more oversight and enforcement resources to the Office of Government
- Ethics to focus on stricter lobbying registration, specifically foreign agent registration
Creating a new ethics code for the US Supreme Court
Can the For the People Act pass the Senate?
Democrats have repeatedly stipulated that they want to pass both H.R.1 and restore the Voting Rights Act previously gutted by the Supreme Court as one of their first legislative priorities. Without the reforms detailed in H.R.1, Democrats face the prospect of losing the house majority in 2022 as gerrymandered districts and voter suppression tactics eat away at their already dwindling majority. However, in the bill’s current form and with the filibuster intact, it’s unlikely H.R.1 stands a fighting chance in the Senate.
While Democrats have been able to pass previous pieces of legislation such as the American Rescue Plan through budget reconciliation, that won’t be possible with H.R.1. It’s become increasingly clear that the only path forward for voting rights in the Senate must include filibuster reform. However, Senate Democrats face opposition to pursuing the previously nicknamed “nuclear option” from within their own party. Senator Klobuchar has floated tweaking the filibuster specifically for this bill, but both Democratic Senators Manchin (WV) and Sinema (AZ) have explicitly stated they will not blow up the filibuster even temporarily to advance voting rights.
This leaves Democrats in a tricky position that will likely require compromise. Finding key pieces of the bill that could garner 60 votes would result in a significant watering down of the intent of H.R.1, so the current Dem strategy is focused on filibuster reform. Biden has already publicly floated a return to the talking filibuster, although Republican senator Lindsey Graham indicated that won’t deter him and said he’d “talk until he fell over” to ensure H.R.1 doesn’t pass the Senate.
The Rantt Rundown
For the Democratic party and for the future of free and fair elections in this country, there’s nothing more important than protecting voting rights and enacting the reforms enshrined in H.R.1. Americans have a narrow window of opportunity to finally end minority rule and to ensure a future for and by the people. We’ve already faced the uncertain prospect of a crumbling republic and we’ll face it again much sooner than we would like unless we can protect the foundation of our democracy and the sacred, constitutional right of every American to vote.