‘When People Vote, America is Stronger’ – Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA)
Editor’s note: CHN Intern Morgan Williams is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is studying economics and global poverty.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, the House Judiciary Committee held an inaugural hearing for H.R. 1, the For the People Act, introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD). The comprehensive bill aims to reduce the role of money in politics, restore ethical standards and integrity for government, and strengthen laws protecting voting rights. By restoring the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and proposing to reduce the influence of money in politics, H.R. 1 has the potential to limit the power of corporations and special interest groups in Congress and prevent the disenfranchisement of minorities before Election Day.
Minority groups are disproportionally targeted by voter disenfranchisement. Voter roll purges, voter identification laws, and intimidating immigrants with robo-calls dissuade or prevent United States citizens from exercising their right to vote. Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, noted three-hour lines at polling locations, malfunctioning machines, and changes to polling location without sufficient notice during the razor-thin 2018 election in Georgia. These tactics, along with false voter fraud theories, cause Americans to lose trust in the integrity of our elections. In doing so, minority groups have less incentive to vote when they fear their vote will not be counted.
According to Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, voter suppression has “metastasized” since the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder U.S. Supreme Court decision that found Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be unconstitutional. In the absence of Section 5, jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression are no longer required to submit changes in voting procedures for pre-clearance from the federal government. Within hours of the decision, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas began implemented voter identification laws. The obvious purpose of these regulations was to limit vulnerable populations, who are less likely to have proper identification, from voting. Among a long list of provisions to ensure election access, the bill restores Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by updating the formula for determining which districts require federal pre-clearance.
In addition to voter suppression, the For the People Act addresses the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited spending by corporations and unions on political advertisements, as long as spending is not coordinated with the campaign. Adav Noti, Senior Director of Trial Litigation and Chief of Staff of the Campaign Legal Center, argues that corporations, “drown out the votes of ordinary citizens.” Because of large corporate donations, politicians are afraid of dirty money and fail to bring bills to the floor with widespread public support. Specifically, Rep. Ted Deutsch (D-FL) suggests that Citizens United stands in the way of popular legislation for gun safety, a living wage, and environmental protections. Passage of H.R. 1 would strengthen Congress’ and states’ authority to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures, thus providing more transparency in elections.
As Americans lose faith in their elections and in their government, the passage of the For the People Act is imperative. Yet H.R. 1 faces significant opposition from some Republicans who assert that the bill usurps power from the states. In response, Rep. David Ciciline (D-RI) stated, “Opponents [of H.R. 1] are in opposition because they benefit from Citizens United, dark money, and disenfranchisement.” Strengthening democracy should not be a partisan debate.