Brief #76—Civil Rights
On January 3, 2019, Representative John P. Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced in the House of Representatives bill H.R.1 known as the For The People Act of 2019. It was the first bill introduced by the new Democratic controlled House chamber and it signaled many of the issues that would be prioritized by the Democratic Party. The massive 571 page bill contained a long list of new bills that covered numerous topics – voting rights, campaign finance, election security, super – PAC’s (Political Action Committees) as well as a code of ethics for the Supreme Court and a bill requiring future presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns among many other topics.
Specifically to voting rights, the proposals are numerous. The bill proposes requiring online voter registration, automatic voter registration, requiring same – day voter registration for federal elections, mandatory independent voting commissions to draw congressional districts, limitations on voter purges, a paper trail on voting systems to permit audits and even a ban on a state’s chief election officer from campaign activities if connected to a federal office. LEARN MORE
Analysis: The For The People Act of 2019’s voting reform proposals are some of the most significant voting reforms put forth in a long time. The reason why these proposals are now front and center is because they are a reaction to voter suppression efforts that have been underway for much of the last decade with many of the obstacles enacted by the GOP leadership in a number of states.
The proposal to require automatic registration is unique because it automatically registers a voter once they turn 18. If the voter does not want to be registered to vote than he or she must take action to opt out. This directly counters GOP efforts to bar voters based on “erroneous” registrations or to keep people out if the state uses an “exact match” voting registration system. The mandatory online voter registration also counters these kinds of GOP voter suppression efforts because registering online will be able to catch mistakes immediately and notify the voter right away. In some states, if there was a mistake on a paper registration, the state had no duty to contact the voter and could simply bar the voter from registering. The proposal to limit voter purges closely tracks this line of thinking because it is a proposal that gives the voter more control over their right to vote instead of having the state have final control over the voting rolls so much so that fraudulent and politically motivated decisions are being used by the state to decide who remains an eligible voter.
The proposal requiring same – day voter registration is also aimed at eliminating one of the tactics that the GOP have embraced to bar voters but also sends a message that voters should not and will not be turned away. Same – day voter registration has often been criticized because states claim they do not have enough time to validate a voter’s registration but this excuse rings hollow because a state can invalidate a ballot after the election if fraud is later detected. They would still be able to do this even if a voter who registered on the same day cast a ballot so there should be no problem in permitting the voter to register and vote on the same day.
Finally, the two proposals pushing for independent voting commissions to draw congressional districts and banning a state’s chief election officer from campaign activities speaks to trying to eliminate as much as possible the ugly partisanship that has become much more common in American politics today. The independent voting commissions are groups tasked with drawing congressional districts instead of having state politicians do it themselves. Politicians at times draw the districts with the goal of keeping a specific political party in power with the result that elections are not truly representative of what the voting constituency wants. The independent voting commissions would keep political partisan considerations out of the business of drawing electoral districts. And the last proposal is a common sense proposal and also a nod to the questionable election of Brian Kemp as Governor of Georgia in 2018. Mr. Kemp was at the time a candidate for Governor and also the chief election officer for the State of Georgia, creating a conflict of interest where his interpretation of rules could have swayed the election in his favor.
There are other voting proposals in H.R. 1 – making Election Day a federal holiday to give voters more time to vote, permitting colleges and universities as places to register to vote – but the proposals discussed are the most prominent. The bill has now been referred to the House Committee on House Administration which has jurisdiction over federal elections where hearings have been scheduled but have not begun yet. These are important proposals that are a good counter to the obstructionist tactics to bar voters that the GOP have employed in recent years and should be given strong consideration in order to strengthen the American political process. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – information about all voting rights issues.
- Brennan Center for Justice – non – profit group’s blog post comments on the merits of For The People Act.
- Common Cause – voting non – profit group’s infopage on For The People Act.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.
Photo by Edwin Andrade