For the People Act: Reforming Campaign Finance, Gov't Ethics, and Voter Protection Laws (H.R. 1)
Do you support or oppose this bill?
What is H.R. 1?
(Updated March 12, 2022)
This bill — the For the People Act — would seek to reduce money’s influence in politics, restore ethics and integrity to government, and strengthen voting laws. The bill is divided into three divisions focused on Election Access, Campaign Finance, and Ethics. Each section is described in detail below.
DIVISION A — VOTING
Title I — Election Access
Voter Registration Modernization
Each state would be required to make online voter registration, correction, cancellation, and designation of party affiliation available online.
States would be prohibited from requiring applicants to provide more than the last four digits of a Social Security number to register to vote.
State election officials would be required to automatically register any eligible unregistered citizens to vote, while protecting ineligible voters who were mistakenly registered from prosecution; and state agencies and federal offices within states would be considered as contributing agencies for the purposes of registration.
States would be required to permit same-day registration for federal elections, including during early voting.
States’ authority to remove registrants from official voter rolls in federal elections on the basis of interstate voter registration crosschecks would be limited.
Annual state reports on voter registration statistics would be required to be provided to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds would be available for use in voter registration modernization reforms.
It would be unlawful to hinder, interfere with, or prevent an individual’s registration to vote; and the EAC would be instructed to develop best practices for states to deter and prevent voter registration interference.
Access to Voting for Individuals with Disabilities
States would be required to promote access to voter registration and voting for persons with disabilities. Grant funding would be made available for persons with disabilities, and a pilot program allowing them to vote from home would begin.
Prohibiting Voter Caging
Returned non-forwardable mail couldn’t be used as the basis for removing registered voters from the rolls. Individuals who aren’t election officials wouldn’t be allowed to challenge voters’ eligibility without an oath of good faith factual basis.
Prohibiting Deceptive Practices and Preventing Voter Intimidation
Providing false information about elections to hinder or discourage voting would be prohibited, and penalties for voter intimidation would be increased. The bill would also create sentencing guidelines for individuals found guilty of the deceptive practices previously described.
Released felons’ right to vote would be restored by declaring that citizens’ rights to vote in federal elections cannot be denied due a criminal conviction, unless they’re serving a felony sentence in a correctional facility. States and the federal government would be required to notify individuals convicted of state or federal felonies, respectively, of their re-enfranchisement.
Promoting Accuracy, Integrity, and Security Through Voter-Verified Permanent Paper Ballot
States would be required to use individual, durable, voter-verified paper ballots, and to count ballots by hand or using an optical character recognition device. Voters must be given opportunities to correct ballots in case of mistakes. Finally, ballots may not be stored in a manner that makes it possible to associate a voter to their ballot.
Provisional ballots from eligible voters at incorrect polling places would be required to be counted.
There must be at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections. Early voting locations would have to be located near public transportation and be open for at least 10 hours a day.
Voting by Mail
States would be banned from imposing restrictions on individuals’ abilities to vote by mail. They would be required to carry out programs to track and confirm the receipt of absentee ballots and to make that information available to voters so they can track their ballots. Additionally, postage would be required on return envelopes for voting materials, including voter registration forms, applications for absentee ballots, and blank absentee ballots transmitted by mail.
Absent Uniformed Services Voters and Overseas Voters
States would be required to send absentee ballots at least 45 days before their election. States that fail to do so would incur a civil penalty. Blank absentee ballots would be required to be transmitted to certain qualified individuals in the same way that they are sent to Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters; however, these marked ballots would not be required to be returnable electronically.
Poll Worker Recruitment and Training
The EAC would be charged with developing model training programs and awarding grants for training.
Enhancement of Enforcement
Individuals would be given private rights of action and ability to file administrative complaints.
Federal Election Integrity
State chief election officials would be banned from participating in federal campaigns, and they’d be banned from using official authorities to affect elections’ results.
Promoting Voter Access Through Election Administration Improvements
The bill would also make various administration improvements to make it easier to vote, including:
Treating universities as voter registration agencies;
Requiring seven days’ notice for polling site changes;
Requiring the U.S. Postal Service to carry absentee ballots for free;
Allowing states to use HAVA funds to reimburse the USPS for revenue it’d have earned from absentee ballots;
Requiring the EAC to reimburse states for establishing absentee ballot tracking programs; creating a voter information hotline;
Allowing voters to submit sworn written statements in lieu of providing photo identification for voting;
Providing accommodations for voters residing in Indian lands;
Ensuring equitable and efficient operation of polling places;
Requiring states to provide secured drop boxes for voted absentee ballots in elections for federal office;
Prohibiting states from restricting curbside voting;
Imposing requirements for federal election contingency plans in response to natural disasters and emergencies;
Requiring the Attorney General to develop a state-based response system and hotline providing information on voting; and
Prohibiting states from requiring voters to submit sworn statements to cast provisional ballots.
This bill would also reauthorize the EAC beginning in FY2021, eliminate the existing funding cap for the agency,and require states to work with it to carry out post-election surveys after any regularly scheduled general election for federal office beginning in November 2022. The EAC would be directed to assess the security, cybersecurity, and effectiveness of its information technology systems and to review procedures for investigating and resolving allegations and violations.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 would both the amended to include the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Title II — Election Integrity
Reaffirming Congress’ Commitment to Restoring the Voting Rights Act
This bill would affirm Congress’s finding that that Shelby County decision ushered in a new era of voter suppression and declare that Congress should build a record of voter suppression since Shelby. It would also declare that Congress should restore the VRA’s protections by updating the formula for determining which jurisdictions are subject to federal preclearance.
Findings Relating to Native American Voting Rights
This bill would declare Congress’s intent to protect and promote Native Americans’ exercise of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote; this would include voter registration and equal access to all voting mechanisms.
Findings Relating to District of Columbia Statehood
This bill would declare Congress’s perspective that District of Columbia residents deserve full Congressional voting rights and self-government which only statehood can provide.
Territorial Voting Rights
This bill would declare Congress’s view that the right to vote is one of the most powerful instructions for ensuring that residents of U.S. territories can have their voices heard. It would also establish a Congressional Task Force on Voting Rights of United States Citizen Residents of Territories of the United States.
States would be required to adopt independent redistricting commissions for drawing Congressional districts.
Saving Voters from Voter Purging
The bill would respond to the Husted decision by clarifying that failure to vote isn't grounds for removing registered voters from the rolls.
No Effect on Authority of States to Provide Greater Opportunities for Voting
This bill sets a floor — not a ceiling — for states’ actions on voting rights, so states could take further actions to protect voting rights beyond this bill’s provisions.
Title III — Election Security
Financial Support for Election Infrastructure
This bill would establish standards for election vendors based on cybersecurity and company ownership. It’d also allow the EAC to issue grants to states for improving and maintaining election systems; establishing paper ballot systems; conducting risk-limiting audits after elections; and encouraging election infrastructure innovation through a competitive grant program.
It would also require states to undertake measures to prevent and deter cybersecurity incidents involving computerized voter registration databases, and would authorize grants to states to conduct risk-limiting audits of election results.
The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) would be required to maintain election infrastructure’s critical designation, to provide timely threat information to chief state election officials, and to assess threats to election systems at least 180 days before a general federal election.
Enhancing Protection for United States Democratic Institutions
The president would be required to produce a national strategy, with an implementation plan issued within 90 days, for protecting U.S. democratic institutions and to create a National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions to counter threats.
Promoting Cybersecurity Through Improvements in Election Administration
Voting systems would be tested nine months before each regularly scheduled general election for federal office. Electronic poll books would be defined as part of voting systems, and pre-election reports on voting system usage would be required.
Preventing Election Hacking
Would establish an Election Security Bug Bounty Program to encourage independent assessments of election systems by technical experts.
Election Security Grants Advisory Committee
An election security grants advisory committee would be established.
Use of Voting Machines Manufactured in the United States
States would be required to seek to use American-made voting machines.
DIVISION B — CAMPAIGN FINANCE
Title IV — Campaign Finance Transparency
Establishing Duty to Report Foreign Election Interference
This section would express Congress’s intent to curb the use of shell companies and other illicit activities allowing foreign money to enter and undermine U.S. democracy. The Federal Election Campaign Act would be amended to create a reporting requirement for disclosing reportable foreign contacts within a week of each contact. A federal campaign foreign contact reporting compliance system would be established for each political committee to notify the treasurer or other designated official of the committee about reportable foreign contacts within three days after the contact.
Contributions and expenditures from foreign nationals and corporations with significant foreign ownership or control would be banned, and the application of the foreign money ban regarding separate segregated funds would be clarified. Super PACs, 501(c)4 groups, and other organizations spending money in elections and on judicial nominations would be required to disclosure donors who contribute more than $10,000; transfers between organizations to clock source contributors would be banned. An exception is allowed if reporting donor information would subject the donor to serious threats, harassment or reprisals.
Large digital platforms would be required to maintain a public database of political ad purchase requests over $500. Digital platforms would be directed to implement measures to prevent foreign nationals from directly or indirectly purchasing political ads. Broadcasters, providers of cable or satellite television, and online platforms would be required to make reasonable efforts to ensure that political advertising is not purchased by foreign nationals, either directly or indirectly.
Stand by Every Ad
“Stand by your ad” disclosure requirements would be expanded to include leaders of corporations, unions, and other organizations purchasing political ads.
Secret Money Transparency
Would repeal the existing prohibition on the IRS promulgating rules to bring clarity to the rules governing 501(c) political activity.
Would repeal the existing prohibition on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finalizing rules to give shareholders the opportunity to know about publicly traded companies’ political spending.
Disclosure of Political Spending by Government Contractors
Would repeal the prohibition on the executive branch promulgating rules to require government contractors to disclose all their political spending.
Disclosure Requirements for Presidential Inaugural Committee
Presidential Inauguration Committees would be required to disclose their expenditures. Aggregate contributions would be limited, and funds couldn’t be used for non-inauguration purposes.
Title V — Campaign Finance Empowerment
Findings Related to Citizens United Decision
Expresses that Congress finds that the Citizens United decision is detrimental to America’s democracy and that the Constitution should be amended to clarify Congress’ and the states’ authority to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures.
Would create small dollar incentives to expand the universe of low-dollar contributors and establish an optional, publicly financed 6-1 matching system on small-dollar donations up to $200 for House candidates who raise at least $50,000 in qualified small dollar contributions from at least 1,000 individuals during the Small Dollar Democracy qualifying period and who demonstrate broad-based support and reject high-dollar contributions. This system would be fully financed through a surcharge on settlements paid by corporate law breakers and tax cheats; no taxpayer funds would be used to finance the matching system.
A state-based pilot demonstration of $25 My Voice vouchers (per election cycle) would be established for political giving to House candidates.
Candidates who qualify for enhanced support would receive an additional 3-to-1 match on qualified small dollar contributions raised during an enhanced support qualifying period, up to $500,000 in enhanced matching funds.
The Freedom From Influence Fund would be established to provide matching funds to qualified candidates. Its funds would be derived from an assessment paid on federal finds, penalties, and settlements for certain tax crimes and corporate malfeasance.
Would establish a publicly financed 6-1 matching system on the first $200 of a contribution to the presidential campaign of a participating candidate. This system would be fully financed through a surcharge on settlements paid by corporate law breakers and tax cheats; no taxpayer funds would be used to finance the matching system. A “matchable contribution” would be an individual contribution in an aggregate amount of no more than $1,000.
Personal Use Services as Authorized Campaign Expenditures
Authorized campaign expenditures would be expanded to include child care, elder service care, rent or mortgage payments, professional development and media training, and health insurance payments in order to make it easier for candidates of modest means to run for and win office. For candidates meeting certain employment eligibility requirements, a “right of return” to employment would be established to make it easier for candidates of modest means to run for and win office.
Empowering Small Dollar Donations
Incentivizes small dollar fundraising by removing restrictions on party spending from accounts funded by small dollars contributions.
Title VI — Campaign Finance Oversight
Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) would be restructured with five commissioners in order to break gridlock, and its civil penalty authority would be made permanent.
Stopping Super PAC-Candidate Coordination
“Prohibited coordination” between campaigns and super PACs would be defined. A “coordinated spender” category would be created to ensure single-candidate PACs don’t operate as arms of campaigns.
Disposal of Contributions or Donations
Establishes a deadline by which candidates not running again must disburse all campaign funds.
Recommendations to Ensuring Filing of Reports Before Date of Election
Requires the FEC to develop recommendations for requiring all political committees to submit FEC reports before an election.
DIVISION C — ETHICS
Title VII — Ethics Standards
Supreme Court Ethics
Would require the development of a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices.
Foreign Agents Registration
Would increase resources for the FARA office, create a FARA investigation and enforcement unit in the Dept. of Justice (DOJ), and give the FARA office the authority to impose civil penalties. It’d also require foreign agents to disclose transactions involving things of financial value conferred on officeholders.
Lobbying Disclosure Reform
Counseling in support of lobbying contacts would be considered lobbying under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, and it would be made something that triggers registration.
Recusal of Presidential Appointees
Would require all presidential appointees to recuse themselves from any matter involving the president, the president’s spouse, or an entity in which the president or their spouse has a substantial interest.
Clearinghouse on Lobbying Information
A single clearinghouse for Lobbying Disclosure Act and Foreign Agents Registration Act registration forms would be established.
Title VIII — Ethics Reforms for the President, Vice President and Federal Officers and Employees
Executive Branch Conflict of Interest
This part of the bill would prohibit: 1) incentive payments from corporations to individuals entering government service; 2) federal procurement officers from accepting compensation from a contractor to which the officer awarded a contract for two years after leaving government service; and 3) senior federal officials from inappropriately using their position after leaving government service by restricting them from attempting to influence employees in their former agency for two years after the end of their official service.
Presidential Conflicts of Interest
This would state the Sense of Congress that the president and vice president should conduct themselves as if they were bound by the federal conflict of interest law. It’d require the president and vice president to file new financial disclosure reports within 30 days of taking office and divest financial interests that pose a conflict of interest or disclosure information about their business interests within the same timeline.
White House Ethics Transparency
Executive branch ethics waivers would be disclosed to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and the public.
Executive Branch Ethics Enforcement
Would reauthorize the OGE and enhance its enforcement mechanisms.
Conflicts from Political Fundraising
Would require individuals nominated or appointed to Senate-confirmed positions and certain other senior government officials to disclose contributions by, solicited by, or made on behalf of an individual. It’d also require disclosure of certain types of gifts to these individuals or their families. The OGE would issue rules or address conflicts of interest identified in disclosures.
Transition Team Ethics
Presidents-elect would be required to develop ethics plans that apply to members of the transition and to affirm that their transition team members are free from financial conflicts of interest.
Ethics Pledge for Senior Executive Branch Employees
Would codify the Obama-era Executive Branch ethics pledge.
Travel on Private Aircraft by Senior Political Appointees
Senior political appointees would be prohibited from using government funds for private aircraft.
Title IX — Congressional Ethics Reform
Requiring Members of Congress to Reimburse Treasury for Amounts Paid as Settlements and Awards Under Congressional Accountability Act
Members of Congress would be prohibited from using taxpayer funds to settle employment discrimination cases against them.
Conflicts of Interest
Members of Congress would be prohibited from serving on for-profit entities’ boards. Rules prohibiting Members and their staff from using their positions to further their own or their immediate family members’ financial interests would be codified.
Campaign FInance and Lobbying Disclosure
FEC reports and Lobbying Disclosure Act reports would be required to be linked online.
Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports
All Congressionally mandated reports from federal agencies would be required to be published online in a searchable and downloadable database.
Reports on Outside Compensation Earned by Congressional Employees
A Senate rule requiring disclosure of providers of outside compensation to Congressional staff would be codified and applied to House staff.
Title X — Presidential Tax Transparency
Presidential Conflicts of Interest
All sitting presidents and vice presidents, as well as candidates for president and vice president, would be required to release their tax returns going back 10 years. These tax returns would be publicly released by the FEC.
Argument in favor
The current political system is broken, corrupt, and badly in need of reform. This ambitious bill restores the promise of government for and by the people by ending money’s influence in politics, re-enfranchising felons, strengthening voter protections, making it easier to vote, and more. It is especially needed now, after a historically contentious 2020 presidential election and in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud after his loss.
Some of this bill’s provisions overreach beyond the limits of what Congress is constitutionally allowed to do, as it undermines Americans' First Amendment rights to political speech and would have a chilling effect on public discourse. Additionally, Congress has more urgent issues, such as economic recovery and equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution, to focus on during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although protecting elections is important, the midterm elections aren’t until 2022; so Congress should set this legislation aside for now to focus on helping the American people get through the current public health and economic crisis.
Voters; elections; felons; political donors; small-dollar donors; campaigns; campaign finance; FEC; SEC; Treasury; Congressional staff; Congress; vice president; and the president.
Cost of H.R. 1
In the 116th Congress, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that enacting this bill would cost nearly $2.6 billion over the five-year period from 2019 to 2024.
In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) reintroduced this bill from the 116th Congress to ensure elections’ integrity and protect the right to vote. In a joint statement after reintroducing this bill, Rep. Sarbanes and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said:
“Our democracy is in a state of deep disrepair. During the 2020 election, Americans had to overcome rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special interest dark money just to exercise their right to vote. Across the country, people of all political persuasions – including Democrats, Independents and Republicans – are profoundly frustrated with the chaos, corruption and inaction that plague much of our politics. That’s why House Democrats are doubling down on our longstanding commitment to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms by again passing H.R. 1, the For the People Act. H.R. 1 will protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, hold elected officials accountable and end the era of big, dark, special-interest money in our politics. Our historic reform effort will clean up decades of dysfunction in Washington, return power to the people and build a more just, equitable and prosperous country for all Americans.”
In the previous session of Congress, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced this bill to uphold House Democrats’ campaign promises to voters during the 2018 midterm elections. In comments upon this bill’s introduction, Rep. Sarbanes said:
“We (Democrats) carried a message of reform, of fighting corruption, of cleaning up Washington. We made a promise to the American people. The new members who’ve come made that promise and made it clear they wanted this to be the first order of business. [This bill] is delivering on that promise.”
Political money overhaul group Democracy 21 supports this legislation. Its president, Fred Wertheimer, says:
“We have a broken political system, a corrupting campaign finance system and a democracy that has been greatly damaged. This legislation makes historic democracy reforms, and the choice is going to come down to: Are we going to repair our democracy or are we going to let an antiquated filibuster rule stand in the way of fixing our political system and our democracy?”
The Biden administration has declared that this legislation’s passage is a major priority. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Rep. Sarbanes noted that he had been having conversations about this bill with the Biden-Harris transition team “for a number of months”:
“[T]hey recognize that, coming off of this election and also recent events, that Americans need to have their faith in the kind of basic tenets of our democracy restored after all that we’ve been going through. We know that President Biden wants to try to bring the country together and heal some of these divisions, and one way to do that is to revisit and go back to basic principles of our democracy — the right to vote, the notion that public officials will act in public interest, not special interest, the idea that government should be dependent, as James Madison said, on the people alone, not overly dependent on big money and special interests. All of this goes back to first principles in terms of how our democracy functions and how our republic was founded. If people don’t have confidence that their vote is what makes the difference about policy in this country and in our democracy, then that cynicism is corrosive to our democracy. This bill is restorative. We’re not going to tear this system down and destroy it; we’re going to cleanse it and rebuild it. I think the Biden team understands that in this moment."
Government watchdog group Common Cause supports this bill. During the 116th Congress, itsIts president, Karen Hobert Flynn, urged the House to pass this bill quickly, and then forward it to the Senate to shine a spotlight on the Senate’s response, or lack thereof:
“We urge the House to pass the bill expeditiously and to forward the bill to the Senate in order to shine a spotlight on the Senate’s response – or silence in the face of public demand. Under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that response has been to declare any proposed democracy reform DOA. That stance must change, or the Senate may find itself with a number of new faces in 2021.”
Last Congress, this bill was unable to overcome stiff opposition. Then-Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called this bill a "power grab" and said that the "sprawling 622-page doorstop is never going to become law." In the previous session of Congress, Rep. Sarbanes embraced Sen. McConnell’s opposition to this bill, saying as he says, “You could stamp on this thing ‘McConnell-rejected,’ and it would immediately give it more credibility… This was built for the public.”
The GOP’s opposition to this bill has continued in the current session of Congress. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) criticized Democrats’ attempt to “recycle failed legislation” with their renewed push to pass this bill, which he characterized as a “federal takeover.” He also accused Democrats of wanting to “use the temporary power the voters have granted them to try to ensure they’ll never have to relinquish it.” He added:
“They want to mandate no-excuse mail-in balloting as a permanent norm, post-pandemic. And — I promise I am not making this up — their bill proposes to directly fund political campaigns with federal tax dollars. They want to raise money through new financial penalties which the government would then use to fund campaigns and consultants.”
In late February 2021, former Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli announced the launch of the Election Transparency Initiative to “act quickly to defeat the efforts of Democrats in Washington to federalize election laws through H.R.1, while simultaneously going on offense at the state level to rally the grass roots around meaningful reforms." Cuccinelli’s group intends to focus on three states (Arizona, Montana, and West Virginia) where moderate senators are most likely to break from the Democratic majority on big issues.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), who opposes this legislation, says:
“If this bill were to become law, it would be the largest expansion of the federal government’s role in elections that we have ever seen. The harm to the states’ electoral process outweighs the minor burdens imposed on the rights to vote.”
The Institute for Free Speech, an organization opposing regulations on political spending, opposes this legislation. Its president, David Keating, says this bill’s donor disclosure requirement could have a chilling effort on donations. Observing that early backers of the Civil Rights or LBGTQ movements often relied on their anonymity, he said:
“We have a right as citizens to join groups and not report who we are to the government. I think a number of liberal groups, when they sit down and look at this closely, they're going to be really concerned about the scope of this legislation.”
In the 116th Congress, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote to the House Rules Committee to say that while it supports many individual provisions of this bill, it opposed others that "unconstitutionally impinge on the free speech rights of American citizens and public interest organizations." Specifically, it opposes the following provisions for the reasons listed:
The DISCLOSE Act "would chill the speech of issue advocacy groups and non-profits such as ACLU, Planned Parenthood, or the NRA that is essential to our public discourse and protected by the First Amendment."
- The Stand By Every Ad Act "unduly burdens constitutionally protected associational rights by requiring widely distributed disclosure of the names of donors to organizations that are not engaged in express advocacy of the election or defeat of the candidate."
- The Honest Ads Acts would expand the "definition of electioneering communications for online ads beyond the bounds permitted by the Supreme Court."
- The Stop Super PAC-Candidate Coordination Act's language defining coordination "appears vague and could be interpreted broadly to encompass communications with the candidate about the public policy issues of the day without sufficient nexus to the potential corrupting influence of very large expenditures."
- The Conflicts from Political Fundraising Act's disclosure requirements "do not appear to be narrowly tailored to serve the government's legitimate anti-corruption goals... All such disclosures will tell the public is that the covered person has been interested in the laws administered by the agency the person will serve, which would seem, if anything, to support that person's qualifications to hold the position, not reveal an insidious conflict of interest."
- The Ethics in Public Service Act "will deny or restrict the government's ability to hire the people of its choice to fill key positions specifically because of their speech and will do the same for private entities' ability to hire the advocate of their choice."
On some issues, such as redistricting, NPR’s Peter Overby reports that some of this bill’s provisions “push the envelope” and reach into state law. During this bill’s consideration in the 116th Congress, he said:
“To settle the controversy over redistricting, the bill would simply take away the power of state legislatures to draw congressional districts and have independent commissions do it instead. That way, presumably, the local politicians could no longer gerrymander the districts to help their party and cripple the opposition.”
All 222 Democratic Members of the House have co-sponsored this bill in the current session. No Republicans have signed on to cosponsor this legislation. Rep. Sarbanes characterizes Democrats’ partywide support of this bill as indicative of the party’s “steadfast commitment to advanc[ing] transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) plans to introduce a Senate version of this bill. In the 116th Congress, this legislation passed the House by a 234-193 party-line vote but failed to advance in the then-Republican-controlled Senate. It had 236 Democratic House cosponsors. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), had 46 Senate cosponsors, including 44 Democrats and two Independents, and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Over 150 groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice, Democracy Policy Center, and March for Our Lives, support this legislation in the 117th Congress. In the 116th Congress, this bill had the support of the House Democratic caucus, as well as Public Citizen, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Alliance for Justice, the Center for American Progress (CAP), Common Cause, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, U.S. PIRG, and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
Of Note: This bill’s title, H.R. 1, is a symbolic title meant to emphasize its importance, even if it won’t be the first piece of legislation to get a House vote in the new Congress. Although this bill stands little chance of getting anywhere beyond the House, Rolling Stone’s Andy Kroll points out that it’s important in several other ways:
“[This bill] announces that the health of our democracy is first and foremost on the minds of Speaker Pelosi and her new majority. And it puts down, in one place, a laundry list of ideas and possible reforms that can be individually enacted or adopted at the state level, giving Democrats a starting point for tackling issues — gerrymandering, voting rights and more — that voters increasingly see as vital to the future of this country… [F]aced with the most ethically challenged president since Richard Nixon, Pelosi and the Democrats have signaled that rolling back decades of anti-democratic policies and resuscitating our ailing electoral system is at the top of their to-do list.”
This legislation is advancing against a backdrop of Republican-controlled states seizing on former Republican President Donald Trump’s false claims about a stolen 2020 presidential election to push legislation that would tighten election security. Democrats — whose slim majorities in both chambers of Congress will be at stake in the 2022 midterms — argue that voters of color, who are a key constituency for the party, would be disproportionately affected by these proposed reforms.
As of January 2021, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that since the 2020 presidential election, 28 states have introduced 106 bills aimed at restricting voting. This represents a sharp increase over 2020, when 15 states introduced 35 similar bills restricting voting.
Sponsoring Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) Press Release
Sponsoring Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) Press Release
Sponsoring Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) Rolling Stone Interview
Declaration for American Democracy Letter (In Favor, 117th Congress)
Reps. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Op-Ed (116th Congress)
Sponsoring Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) Section-by-Section Summary (116th Congress)
CBO Cost Estimate (116th Congress)
Causes - HR 1 Summary, 116th Congress
ACLU (Opposed, 116th Congress)
Public Citizen (In Favor, 116th Congress)
Communications Workers of America (CWA) Press Release (In Favor, 116th Congress)
Alliance for Justice (AFJ) Press Release (In Favor, 116th Congress)
Center for American Progess (CAP) Press Release (In Favor, 116th Congress)
Common Cause Press Release (In Favor, 116th Congress)
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Press Release (In Favor, 116th Congress)
U.S. PIRG Press Release (In Favor, 116th Congress)
Project on Government Oversight (POGO) Press Release (In Favor, 116th Congress)
Roll Call (117th Congress)
Newsweek (117th Congress)
Maryland Matters (117th Congress)
Washington Post (116th Congress)
The Tribune (116th Congress)
Huffington Post (116th Congress)
Rolling Stone (116th Congress)
Brennan Center for Justice Report (Context)
Summary by Lorelei Yang (with contributions from Eric Revell)(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Moussa81)
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