Understanding the For the People Act of 2021

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9 mins read
For the People Act

Democrats won big in 2020: seizing the White House from an incumbent president, retaining the House and essentially winning the Senate by turning it into a 50-50 chamber. So how have the GOP responded to this resounding defeat? Have they learned any lessons? Indeed, they have. All the wrong ones …

The big idea that Republicans took from this election is that since they can’t win fairly, they need to prevent people who are likely to vote for Democrats from voting. To bring about this goal, legislators in 43 states are working hard — at passing laws to make it harder for eligible voters to register and vote. 

But Democrats and other democracy-minded Americans know our elections need to be safeguarded. That’s why all the way back in 2019 the House passed the previous version of the For the People Act, but it was one of the hundreds of bills that sat on the desk of Mitch McConnell, then-Senate Majority leader, and never even reached the floor of the Senate for a vote.  

Once Democrats gained control of Congress, the first piece of legislation they moved forward was the For the People Act of 2021, which passed 220-210 on March 3. Now the bill has moved to the Senate where it will have its first hearing on March 24. “Efforts by the powerful and privileged to increase voter intimidation and voter suppression in order to drown out the People’s voice are a cancer threatening our democracy,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who introduced and sponsored the bill the previous week. 

Recently, Adam Cohen wrote on this site of the imperative of this bill passing Congress and becoming law: “[T]he failure to enact the For the People Act may ultimately result in the death knell of our democracy.” But exactly what is in the For the People Act that makes it so essential to safeguarding our democracy?

Protect and Expand Voting Rights

Remember those long lines we saw outside of polling places in 2020? The massive voter purges in Georgia back in 2017, when more than half a million people were removed from the rolls? Remember how Florida Republicans denied the will of the people and put up barriers to restoring voting rights to those formerly incarcerated on felony charges? The For the People Act will encourage greater participation in our democratic process by removing barriers. It will: 

  • Establish automatic voter registration and same-day registration 
  • Require online voter registration systems
  • Limit purge of voter rolls
  • Require 15 days of early voting 
  • Make Election Day a federal holiday
  • Guarantee vote-by-mail 
  • Simplify mail-in voting and secure paper ballots 
  • Restore federal voting rights to millions of formerly incarcerated Americans
  • End partisan gerrymandering by establishing independent redistricting commissions

The For the People Act also will nullify all voter suppression laws currently in state legislatures or already signed into law, thus ensuring that every eligible citizen is able to exercise their right to vote. 

Expand and Protect Election Security

We all know how many questions circulated around the 2016 elections when Russian hackers actually hacked into voter registration databases of numerous states. While there is no indication of votes being changed, the close margins in some states, which tipped the election, led to uncertainty and provided fodder for conspiracy theories. The For the People Act safeguards our elections against future attacks with reforms that will:

  • Standardize the use of voter-verified paper ballots 
  • Provide funding to modernize and secure elections 
  • Close loopholes in laws preventing foreign governments from spending money in U.S. elections 
  • Establish requirements for states to protect voter registration databases
  • Establish rules about communicating potential attacks to federal authorities

Reduce the Influence of Big Money in Politics

Money talks in politics. And politicians spend a lot of time chasing the money. In a 2016 “60 Minutes” segment, former GOP Rep. David Jolly said that as a new member of Congress, he was told that his “first responsibility” was to raise $18,000 a day. We need to get money out of politics, so the For the People Act creates a small donor, public matching funds system that won’t cost taxpayers a cent. This voluntary system provides matching funds for contributions so candidates don’t need to take money from big donors, corporate executives, and special interest PACs. The fund provides a 6-to-1 match for all donations under $200. This new system will not divert funds from existing government programs — it is funded by the fines, penalties, and settlements that corporations, executives, and tax cheats pay to the government.

Further, the For the People Act will force transparency around campaign spending, bringing an end to the cloak of secrecy that allows millions of dollars to flow into our elections. Specific reforms will: 

  • Ensure dark money groups disclose their donors
  • Establish disclosure requirements for online advertisements
  • Restructure the FEC to strengthen its enforcement and regulatory mechanisms
  • Upgrade online political advertising transparency rules

Ensure an Ethical Government

According to CREW, Trump’s administration has had 3,737 conflicts of interest. The nonpartisan U.S. government ethics and accountability watchdog organization issued a report stating, “Trump has flouted all kinds of norms set by previous presidents, starting with his decision not to divest from his business interests while in office, setting the stage for what became an administration marked by placing self-interest and profiteering at the highest levels above the public interest and culminated in a deadly insurrection that was rooted in the same self-serving ethos.” Last year, the American Prospect mapped out the corruption and self-dealing that ran through the entire Executive Branch. The For the People Act will break this cycle of corrupting influence. It will:

  • Require presidential and vice presidential candidates to publicly disclose 10 years of tax returns
  • Stop members of Congress from serving on corporate boards and using taxpayer money to settle harassment or discrimination cases
  • Expand existing conflict of interest laws
  • Create a new code of ethics for the U.S. Supreme Court 
  • Slow the revolving door between government officials and lobbyists
  • Give government officials greater oversight power and ability to enforce ethics rules
  • Prohibit providing false and misleading information about elections

Now that you know just how important the For the People Act is, how can you help it pass the Senate?
Here are a few calls to action:

  • Call Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) at 304-342-5855 and ask him to co-sponsor the bill. Better yet, contact a West Virginian and ask them to call!
  • Write a note to your senator telling them to pass the #FTPA now! You can send an email with one click.
  • Sign this petition from Common Cause.
  • Work with members of DemCast to get the For the People Act passed. Join the social media team, register for weekly briefings and share prewritten posts to social media.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.


Rena Korb is a professional writer and editor. Her publications span from children’s books to political commentary. She volunteers as a DemCast California captain and as a leader with her local Indivisible chapter. She also is a lifelong activist, attending her first protest when she was 16. She lives in San Mateo with her family and, in non-pandemic times, enjoys playing Ultimate frisbee.

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