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.