By Amanda Menas
Educators across the country are calling for substantial reforms to voter protections in order to support their students, families, and their school communities. We can ensure every eligible American has the freedom to vote and that the results of our elections reflect the will of the people. Congress must pass the For the People Act.
Passed by the House nearly two years ago, H.R. 1, For the People Act, was among hundreds of measures sent to the legislative graveyard of then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Democrats have renewed the push for action now that they control both the House and the Senate—albeit by razor-thin margins. The House voted to pass the bill on March 3, with the Senate moving to hear the bill (S.1) on March 24. The bills would send a strong signal to state legislators who have introduced four times as many bills to restrict people’s basic right to vote since last year.
Educators would like to see the following included in the approved voting rights bill:
Reaffirmation and Expansion of Voting Rights
The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned discriminatory practices—like literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation, threats, and violence—and extended voting protections to millions of racial, ethnic, and language minority citizens. Today, however, counties with majority voters of color still face severe voter suppression. Ensuring access to the ballot box is one of our most fundamental rights as citizens. We should do everything possible to ensure that no voter’s health or safety is at risk.
One way to increase voter participation is to enact automatic voter registration. This policy alone could add an estimated 50 million eligible people to the voter rolls, including many people with disabilities who previously faced significant barriers to registering in person.
States across the country have passed measures to make it harder for Americans—particularly people of color, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities—to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. These measures include voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and purges of voter rolls.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decision gutted key components of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, whose provisions were remarkably successful in protecting the voting rights of individuals most vulnerable to voter discrimination: communities of color, the elderly, the poor, and those with limited English skills.
A vibrant democracy requires expanded participation.
It is time for Congress to restore protections of the VRA, which ensure access to the ballot for all voters.
With the fights for racial justice and voter disenfranchisement inherently intertwined, Congress must also work to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRA) – which would restore a critical provision of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court’s infamous 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. By restoring the VRA’s preclearance provision, Congress would be taking a crucial step in preventing racial discrimination in the voting process. Unless we take these steps, many voters—especially those in historically marginalized communities—will not have the opportunity to vote and will not have a say in our democracy.
HR 1 also would ensure that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their voting rights restored, expand voting by mail and early voting, and modernize the voting system.
Stronger Oversight to End Big Money in Politics
Instead of empowering the big, super-rich corporations, the For the People Act seeks to modernize campaign financing to put power back in the hands of voters through small donations and public matching funds. In addition, H.R. 1 addresses our government ethics crisis by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics to strengthen federal ethics oversight. It would also require candidates for president and vice president to release their tax returns for the previous 10 years. The law would also expand conflict of interest laws and divestment requirements to prevent members of Congress from serving on corporate boards.
To achieve the goal of an ethical government that represents all residents, H.R. 1 would place new limits on partisan practices like gerrymandering and purging voter rolls that allow politicians to pick their voters. In order to establish fair redistricting criteria and safeguard voting rights for communities of color, states would be required to draw congressional districts using independent redistricting conditions that are bipartisan and reflect the demographic diversity of the region.
Voting should not be a “use it or lose it” right. Practices of voter purging disproportionately target and remove traditionally marginalized people from registration rolls. The bill would also overturn the Supreme Court’s troubling 2018 decision which allowed states to conduct massive purges from its voter rolls based on non-voting in past elections. Each of these actions would ensure that there are fewer discriminatory barriers in preventing Americans from exercising the right to vote.
To move forward together as a nation, we must ensure that every eligible American can cast a ballot, so we are able to elect leaders who govern in our interests and make the promise of our democracy real for us all.