H.R.1 Would Strengthen Democracy and Perhaps Increase Citizenry Confidence in Elections

What is in this ‘For The People Act’ that Indivisibles can rally around?

As Indivisibles we can spend our days frustrated by what Congress does not do. Or, we can educate ourselves and take action to protect our Democracy.  

This is the choice we face with H.R. 1, the For the People Act, the most significant electoral integrity bill since the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This bill passed in the House by a vote of 234 to 193. A package of election reforms, it is meant to restore people’s faith that government works for the public interest, not the special interest. 

Mitch McConnell stopped progress on this bill, refusing to  bring it to the Senate floor for a vote. 

Without these reforms,  too many of our fellow citizens will continue to believe that voting does not matter, that elections are corrupted by big money. As Indivisibles, we care about good governance and transparent policymaking, and we will not be sidelined while entrenched interests shape policy to their benefit. This is why we should know what’s in H.R. 1.  

This comprehensive election reform legislation will help modernize outdated election practices and curb the corrupting influence of money in politics.  

There is so much to unpack that Congressional lawmakers are working to break apart H.R. 1 bringing separate bills to the floor for a vote.  These bills will be activism points for Indivisibles.

Here is the high-level version from Congress.gov that will tell you the bill contents in a few minutes:

This bill addresses:

·       voter access,

·       election integrity,

·       election security,

·       political spending, and ethics for the three branches of government.

Specifically, the bill

·       expands voter registration and voting access,

·       makes Election Day a federal holiday,

·       limits removing voters from voter rolls, and

·       provides for states to establish independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions.

The bill also sets forth provisions related to election security, including sharing intelligence information with state election officials, protecting the security of the voter rolls, supporting states in securing their election systems, developing a national strategy to protect the security and integrity of U.S. democratic institutions, establishing in the legislative branch the National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions, and other provisions to improve the cybersecurity of election systems.

This bill addresses campaign spending, including by expanding the ban on foreign nationals contributing to or spending on elections; expanding disclosure rules pertaining to organizations spending money during elections, campaign advertisements, and online platforms; and revising disclaimer requirements for political advertising.

This bill establishes an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices. The system involves federal matching of small contributions for qualified candidates.

This bill sets forth provisions related to ethics in all three branches of government. Specifically, the bill requires a code of ethics for federal judges and justices, prohibits Members of the House from serving on the board of a for-profit entity, expands enforcement of regulations governing foreign agents, and establishes additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for federal employees and the White House.

The bill also requires candidates for President and Vice President to submit 10 years of tax returns.

H.R.1 Details in 3 Major Areas of Interest 

There is a lot to like in H.R.1, and there may be amendments to improve it further. As it is, H.R.1 would strengthen our democracy in significant ways:  

1.    Expanding and Regulating Voting Rights

·       Requires national automatic voter registration (AVR), early voting and same-day registration (SDR). This will greatly expand the electorate and encourage greater participation, which will lead to more accurate representation. AVR, where voters would opt out rather than opt in, keeps voter rolls more accurate through electronic transfer of information across agencies, and reduces costs associated with data entry and error correction, mailing, and shipping.

·       Prohibits voter roll purging by eliminating the use of non-forwardable mail as a reason to remove voters protects voter rights. H.R.1 prohibits voter purging based on demonstrably flawed “exact match” criteria.

·       Requires states to implement early-in-person voting at least two weeks prior to the end of a federal election period includes voting by mail.

·       End partisan gerrymandering in federal elections.

·       Recruit and train more poll workers in advance of the 2020 election.  This is important to cut down on wait times that often cause voters to turn away; sometimes, by design.

·       Makes Election Day a holiday for federal employees and encourages the private sector to follow suit.

·       Requires poll workers to provide a week’s notice if poll sites change.

·       Makes colleges and universities additional, legal voter registration agencies. 

·       Requires the Director of National Intelligence to conduct regular checks on foreign threats to the integrity of our election process.  

·       Restores provisions of the Voting Rights Act, struck down/nullified by the US Supreme Court in 2013.

·       Requires states to upgrade and secure their election systems.

·       Restores voting rights to those with past criminal convictions. 

2.    Transparency and Ethics

·       Requires that publicly traded corporations disclose more about their political spending.

·       Authorize the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded companies disclose their political spending to their shareholders and the public.

·       Gives the Federal Elections Commission the ability to enforce campaign finance regulations with some teeth. Right now, the FEC is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and this can lead to dysfunction. H.R.1 reduces the current six commissioners to five (two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent) with the intent that the body would be able to act on majority rule.

·       Establishes public financing of campaigns. The likely intent is to reduce the political impact that economic inequality exerts on the election process. Registered voters are given a $25 voucher and can decide which individual campaigns to support.

·       Prohibits election officials from oversight of their own elections.

·       Requires the federal Office of Government Ethics to issue rules on addressing conflicts of interest. H.R.1 enables this office to implement, enforce and have oversight of stricter lobbying registration requirements.

·       Expands the Office of Government Ethics oversight of foreign agents by the Foreign Agents Registration Act.   

·       Requires senior government officials, as well as Individuals nominated or appointed to Senate-confirmed positions, to disclose contributions or solicitations made by or on behalf of entities they regulate. Such people and their families would also have to disclose certain types of gifts.

·       Require publicly-traded corporations to disclose political expenditures to their shareholders, through the Securities and Exchange Commission.  

·       Requires the President and VP to make available ten years of personal and business tax returns . Same goes for candidates to these offices.

·       Prevents MOCs from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims.

·       Create a new ethics code for the United States Supreme Court.

3.    Money in Politics Reform

·       Supports a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United.

·       Prohibits coordination between PACs and candidates.

·       Requires government contractors to disclose any political spending.

·       Targets the flow of foreign money into elections by examination of shell companies.

·       Requires PACs and dark money political organizations to make their donors public through the DISCLOSE Act.

·       Requires Facebook and Twitter to disclose the amount and source of money for political ads on their platforms through the Honest Ads Act.

·       Establishes public financing of campaigns. The federal government would provide a voluntary 6-1 match for Presidential and Congressional candidates.  For instance, for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations (capped at $200), the federal government matches it six times over. This match gets funded not from taxpayer dollars but instead from a 2.75% fee on civil and criminal fines, settlements and/or penalties from banks and private companies that commit malfeasance.

What’s Next?

Without a functional democracy in which everyone is included and represented, we can’t achieve any of our other Indivisible priorities.  That’s why, in the coming months, we will rally around H.R.1 content, or the separate bills that are spun from its contents, to strengthen our democracy.  We invite you to help keep the pressure on the Senate to bring forth the full bill or any individual bills that uphold these principles of democracy as they  come to Mitch McConnell for a vote.