The Urgent Need to Pass the For the People Act

Alan Zendell, March 25, 2021

The aftermath of the Trump years is a number of genuinely urgent issues that need to be addressed now. Trump was indefatigable in his many and varied attempts to undermine our Constitution, and the damage he did, if not addressed quickly will fester into something truly toxic for our democracy.

President Biden was correct in making the COVID recovery act his first priority. It’s a rare event when economists agree with near unanimity on a subject as complex as recovering from the pandemic. Moreover, it was smart politically. When James Carville said, “It’s the economy, stupid” during the 1992 presidential campaign, he addressed the basic truth that Americans always respond favorably to something that improves their families’ standard of living.

The American Rescue Plan Act did precisely that, and it won approval from more than three fourths of Americans including 59% of Republicans. That’s a landslide number – since World War 2, only Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan won presidential elections by such large margins, and legislation almost never wins that level of universal approval. Biden promised to govern for all Americans, and the Rescue Plan was the first proof of that. Despite the continuing repercussions of the Big Lie that the election was rigged, getting close to 80% of Americans to agree was the best possible start to reunifying the country.

With priority one behind us, several critical issues compete for priority two: jobs, health care, repairing our infrastructure, voting rights, foreign policy, trade policy – where to begin? The answer, without question, is H.R 1, the For the People Act, the full text of which is here. H.R 1 will assure the integrity of future national elections, and it’s essential that it be passed this year, because states must re-draw their voting district boundaries to reflect the 2020 census before the 2022 midterms.

The most time-critical provisions of H.R 1 deal with gerrymandering, the process by which a state legislature can literally rig the playing field for future elections. Gerrymandering is a deliberate action, practiced by both parties, designed to distort election results to favor the party that controls a state’s legislature at the time the redistricting is done. In recent years, gerrymandering was responsible for disenfranchising more than twenty percent of the electorates of some states. There is no clearer violation of the concept of “one person one vote,” no more obvious contravention of the spirit of the Constitution.

Equally urgent is the need to head off attempts to make voting more difficult and suppress the votes of minorities, the poor, and the infirm. For decades, we have condemned and ridiculed elections in other countries. Russian elections, in particular, have been mocked as autocrats like Vladimir Putin do everything in their power to silence political opposition, including the suppression of any opponent who has a following large enough the threaten the existing order. Yet, that is exactly what Republicans in forty three states are attempting to do.

Republicans do best when the majority of voters are white, and it’s no secret that America’s white population is no longer in the majority. Republicans believe that if they are to retain political power at the national level, the nonwhite vote must be held down, and they want nothing less to a return to the Jim Crow era. It’s cynical and it violates the basic principles of our republic.

The For the People Act does a number of other things, too. It limits the power of Super PACs to flood elections with limitless, anonymous contributions, and attempts to reduce the influence of big money on elections. It requires all significant donors to be identified. It maximizes opportunities for voter registration for all citizens, and codifies in federal law that everyone has the right to a reasonable period of early voting and to vote by absentee ballot without providing justification. It prescribes penalties for anyone who willfully aids a foreign power trying to influence the outcome of an election and clamps down on foreign money used to help specific candidates. It requires full transparency by all presidential and vice presidential candidates with respect to tax records and any potential conflicts of interest.

The For the People Act should not be a political football decided by the ability to filibuster in the Senate. It is essential to the future of our democracy, and thus justifies passage by any means necessary. Ask yourself if any of the provisions listed above violate your own notions of how our elections are supposed to function. This is a decision for the voters, not a small number of politicians desperate to retain power. It’s up to us to let them know how we expect them to vote.

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