Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the “For the People Act” on Friday, an elections and ethics bill which would expand voting rights, reform congressional campaign funding, force presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns, and tackle voter suppression head on.
The bill, H.R. 1, passed right on party lines, with every Democrat voting to pass it and every Republican voting against it. Four Republicans and one Democrat, Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay, didn’t vote.
Among the reforms, the bill aims to improve access to democracy by ending gerrymandering (requiring redistricting with the help of independent state commissions instead of state legislatures), and imposing voter-access mandates on states regarding automatic voter registration, voter-roll purges, voter ID laws, and voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences, according to the Washington Post. The bill would also make Election Day a national holiday.
Speaking on the House floor on Friday, Georgia Rep. and civil rights leader John Lewis grew emotional, evoking the ideas of Dr. Martin Luther King about morality. Lewis said that voting for the bill would give House members a chance to be on the “right side of history.”
“It makes me sad, it makes me feel like crying, when people are denied the right to vote. We all know that this is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an American one,” Lewis said. “So I ask you, if not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
Notably, H.R. 1 also mandates presidential and vice-presidential candidates to release a decade of past tax returns. It would also call for the end of first-class travel for federal officeholders, establish public financing for congressional elections through corporate malfeasance fines, and require political nonprofit groups to disclose their large donors.
This is all to say that, while ambitious and righteous, the bill is unlikely to pass in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already called the bill’s voting rights provisions a “power grab” by Democrats in January, and has characterized other provisions as unnecessary.
It is, however, an attempted step in the right direction nonetheless, and a strong nod toward what Democratic priorities might look like the next time the party holds unified control of government.