The innumerable stories of voter suppression that dominated the 2018 midterms caught the eye of House Democrats. And although their plan to deal with it isn’t likely to come to fruition anytime soon, House Democrats laid down an important marker on Friday to show their commitment to fixing our barely working democracy.
On Friday, a coalition of Democrats officially rolled out the For the People Act, a key component of their plan to tackle the rampant voter suppression and gerrymandering efforts used by the GOP to maintain their stranglehold on state governments and congressional seats. The legislation, officially titled H.R. 1, focuses its efforts on three major categories concerning the ballot box: voting, dark money, and ethics in American politics.
The proposals it offers are major steps forward—among them include automatic voter registration, restoring the Voting Rights Act to its initial, full-bodied strength before its gutting at the hands of the Supreme Court, and the restoration of voting rights to citizens who’ve been convicted of felonies and completed their sentence, a position taken by Florida voters this past November. It also covers the modernization of local voting technology, a measure for introducing the public funding of elections, and increased security to prevent election fraud cases like the one currently playing out in North Carolina’s 9th District.
The bill also lines up the scuzzy side effects of the Citizens United Supreme Court case, aiming to require all political organizations to reveal their large donors—an attempt at shining a light on the dark money that dominates politics. On the ethics end, H.R. 1 hopes to curb Congress representatives serving on corporate boards and, in a wink at President Donald Trump, requires presidents to disclose their tax returns.
In addition to all of these objectively great proposals, the bill includes a subsection dedicated wholly to addressing the ongoing issue of voter suppression efforts targeting Native American voters, and hints at the Democrats’ forthcoming plan to hold hearings (as they should) over the suppression issues that plagued the 2018 elections in North Dakota and Georgia.
Now the medicine: Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already nixed the idea of the bill getting through his chamber, saying, “That’s not going to go anywhere.” That means the earliest chance this package has of passing is in 2021, and that’s only if the Democrats take back the White House and the Senate.
But viewing immediate passage as the sole measure of success here would be short-sighted. It’s significant that House Democrats made this their first bill in the new Congress, reflecting a commitment to the principles contained within it, and its backing by the senior leadership of the party means that new Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others believe that expanding democracy—not just protecting it—can be a winning issue for the party.
If they don’t, or if they allow concessions on any of these issues, then Americans can expect increasing cases of blatant election fraud and minority voter suppression for the foreseeable future. No pressure.