Over the last decade, our country’s democracy has suffered attacks on several fronts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC that struck down the prohibition on corporate independent expenditures has allowed wealthy special interests to inundate our elections with record-breaking amounts of campaign spending and difficult-to-trace dark money, making elected officials more responsive to a select few rather than everyday Americans. In 2013, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court opened up new opportunities for voter suppression. In the years since, many states and localities have instituted a slew of restrictive photo ID laws, polling place closures and purges of voter rolls that aim to suppress voters of color. Meanwhile, extreme partisan gerrymandering in states across the country has further disenfranchised many voters by creating political maps that rig the system in favor of the politicians or party in power.
Additionally, there have been rampant ethical abuses by officials in the highest levels of government, which has set a dangerous precedent by eroding the line between the work that elected officials do for their own campaigns or personal benefit versus the work that they do on behalf of the public. Additionally, lobbyists and even registered foreign agents have been able to serve in the government and exert influence over its decision-making processes.
In 2020, the combination of the presidential election and COVID-19 pandemic brought more opportunities to try to restrict voting rights, dump vast sums of money into our political system and violate ethics norms. Restrictions on in-person gatherings made it harder for citizen activists in states across the country to gather the number of signatures required to get initiatives that would have ended partisan gerrymandering on the ballot.
The For the People Act, H.R. 1, is a sweeping democracy reform package that offers some of the most comprehensive advances our democracy has seen in decades. These reforms in this legislation are deeply popular and have already been passed in many states and localities. They aim to accomplish three overarching goals: (1) protecting and strengthening the right to vote, (2) decreasing the amount of influence wealthy special interests can exert over our politics and (3) implementing anti-corruption, pro-ethics measures to clean up government. In addition to strengthening federal ethics laws, H.R. 1 would also create a more transparent process where citizen-led independent redistricting commissions would draw political maps.
This historic legislation already passed the House of Representatives with unanimous Democratic support in March 2019 and was co-sponsored by all members of the Senate Democratic Caucus. President-elect Joe Biden has stated that a “first priority” of his administration will be a comprehensive set of democracy solutions like those in the For the People Act. In the last few weeks, House and Senate Democratic leaders have also voiced their support for prioritizing this legislation. Speaker Pelosi said the House “will proudly pass our election reform, anti-corruption and voting rights legislation by passing H.R. 1 on the first day of the new Congress.” Our elected officials should make good on their promise to prioritize democracy reform. We all deserve to have a government that is accessible, transparent and responsive to us.