Why Congress Must Finally Act for the People and Pass HR1/S1

8 mins read

Republicans can lie about it as much as they want. There was no significant voter or election fraud in the 2020 election.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Judges in more than 60 court cases said so. Republican election officials in Georgia and Arizona said so. Donald Trump’s FBI director, attorney general and chief election official all said so. Even the Supreme Court — with three conservative justices appointed by Trump — soundly rejected the argument that there were major irregularities in November’s election.

But if there wasn’t any meaningful misconduct in the last election, why are Republicans in 43 states rushing to introduce more than 250 bills to restrict voting access under the guise of correcting this (nonexistent) voter fraud?

Simple. In the last two years, the GOP has lost the House of Representatives, the presidency and the Senate. Moreover, a number of these races have been extremely close. In Nevada, President Biden won by 33,596 votes. In Arizona, he won by 10,457. In Georgia, it was 12,670. And in Wisconsin, he got by with 20,682. 

Now, Republicans don’t like losing because that means Democrats can then enact their nasty, progressive agenda. By daring to give Americans things they want and actually need like stimulus checks, health care, an increase in the minimum wage, and laws that protect the climate. Imagine the nerve!  

But the GOP has a dilemma: the more people who vote, the more likely it is that Democrats will win. Because as it turns out people like getting the things they want and need. I know, crazy, right? So, instead of coming up with new, popular policy ideas to capture the imagination of American citizens, Republicans do what they think is the next best thing.

Repressing the rights of voters.

Especially Black voters. The GOP knows that Black voters tend to elect Democrats, and if they can stop enough of them from getting to the polls, they stand a much better chance of winning. They even admitted — to the Supreme Court no less — that proposed laws are not about expanding the franchise but have been introduced to even the “competitive disadvantage” that Republicans have against Democrats. And with margins as close as 10,000-20,000, if they can stop a few Democrats from voting, it can make the difference between which candidate wins. And, ultimately, which party controls the majority. In other words, if these restrictive election laws are enacted, fewer people will have a voice in determining policies. Such a change could mean the difference in the next pandemic between 5,000 and 500,000 Americans losing their lives.

You might dismiss these concerns as alarmist. You may say there’s no way the GOP would actually take away people’s voting rights. Except earlier this week, in Iowa, they did just that. Despite the fact that in November Iowans turned out to vote in record numbers, and despite the lack of any demonstrable fraud in that election, Iowa has enacted a statute which shortens early voting, closes polls earlier, and makes it tougher to use absentee ballots. Every Republican voted for this bill. Every Democrat voted against it. Upon signing it, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds cited the need to “protect the integrity of every election.” But if there’s no fraud, the question becomes, what are you protecting the election from? Or perhaps it’s, who are you protecting the election for?

Luckily, the House of Representatives has passed HR 1, the “For the People Act,” to counteract these punitive measures. Sponsored by Congressman John Sarbanes, this expansive voting rights bill would

  • Create automatic voter registration;
  • Establish same-day voter registration;
  • Ensure that every state will have at least 15 consecutive days of early voting;
  • Protect voting by mail (and require states to pay for it);
  • Establish independent redistricting commissions to stop gerrymandering; and
  • Restore voting rights to people who have completed felony sentencing requirements.

The new law doesn’t stop there. It also gets so-called dark money out of elections by reversing the Supreme Court decision in the infamous Citizens United case. It forces social media to disclose who pays for political advertising. It restricts the ability of foreign entities to contribute to candidates. And it gives teeth to the currently useless Federal Election Commission.

The bill addresses some much-needed ethical reforms as well, like requiring presidential candidates to disclose their taxes and creating a new code of ethics for Supreme Court justices. It also prohibits members of Congress from using taxpayer money to resolve claims of sexual harassment.

Naturally, Republicans have been regularly attacking the For the People Act. Which is interesting, because Republican voters overwhelmingly support the expansive voting rights legislation. But then, most GOP voters support the American Rescue Act, also known as the COVID-19 relief package, and that didn’t stop every single Republican in Congress from opposing the landmark stimulus bill. Why, it almost seems like the GOP doesn’t support anything that the American people want. And if you’re now having flashbacks to Republicans sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, you’re not alone.

The looming fight over HR 1, however, is much more fundamental than policy disputes over legislation. Indeed, it is not hyperbole to suggest that the failure to enact the For the People Act may ultimately result in the death knell of our democracy. If Republicans can successfully restrict the right to vote, even if only for a few thousand people in every state, they may be able to maintain power despite their ever-diminishing minority. They have already shown us on Jan. 6 that they are perfectly comfortable with overturning a valid election, even if it means resorting to violence.

So it is wholly unsurprising that they see nothing wrong with changing the rules to keep “their people” in power. If they can do so successfully, there will be nothing to stop them from creating even more obstacles to the franchise, gaining an even greater stranglehold on the country, appointing even more radical judges to support their restrictive agenda, and consigning more Americans to permanent second-class citizenship status—or even worse. And, of course, it’s all the more meaningful if there’s a little racism thrown in. The stakes are huge. We must win this fight. We must call and email our members of Congress. We must not hold back. We must not relent.

The future of our country may well depend upon it.

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