Kiss Democracy Goodbye If the ‘For the People Act’ Dies in the Senate

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Despite being accused of “doing nothing,” when Democrats reclaimed control of the House of Representatives in 2019, they wasted no time in passing a slew of legislation.

The first, and arguably the most necessary, was HR1, or the “For the People Act,” which “expands Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduces the influence of big money in politics, strengthens ethics rules for public servants, and implements other anti-corruption
measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”

But republicans controlled the Senate then, and Majority Leader Mitch “the grim reaper” McConnell would have been damned had he even thought about advancing legislation that had the potential to help anyone other than the richest one percent.

Re-introduced this January, HR1 passed 220–210 on March 3 with no Republican support and only one Democrat opposing.

It now sits as S.1 in the 50/50 Senate awaiting certain filibuster.

While it’s true democracy is messy and frustrating, and not every bill that ought to become law does, passing S.1 through the Senate and getting it onto President Joe Biden’s desk could literally mean rescuing elections from the precipice toward which the Republican death cult (let’s not even call it a party anymore) is driving them.

Record turnout in last year’s election threw republicans into a tailspin.

They do not want democracy.

They want oligarchy.

But they know Americans outside the extremely wealthy do not.

So to maintain their wealthy donors’ hegemony, they work tirelessly to prevent voters from exercising their civic duty to choose whom they want to represent them.

And it isn’t like it’s been a secret.

Republicans have been wagging their voter suppression flag in our faces since Paul Weyrich, the Heritage Foundation founder and “founding father of the conservative movement,” announced as much in a speech to a religious right group in Dallas in 1980.

We needn’t look any further than at recent bills in republican-majority states to understand how the “Grand Old Party” is sowing the seeds of future victories by preventing the 2020 turnout from ever happening again.

The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) is tracking 125 bills 28 states are pushing to change ballot measure processes.

Republican lawmakers have introduced more hundreds of bills to restrict voting, criminalize peaceful protest, revoke authority from state courts and local election boards, and discard votes that aren’t for them.

In March, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation to strip election control from local and county election boards in order to impose new voter ID requirements, limit mail-in ballot drop boxes, reject entire ballots erroneously misdelivered to incorrect precincts, allow conservative activists to challenge voters’ eligibility, even criminalize distributing pizza and water to voters waiting in line for their turn to cast their ballots.

Last week, Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis followed suit.

Other restrictive bills have been signed in Iowa, Arkansas, and Utah.

Arizona republican state senators are behind a recount of 2020 presidential election ballots because the entire party they serve has doubled down on the Donald Trump’s dangerous “rigged election” lie that led to the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.

They’ve even resorted to hunting for bamboo fibers as evidence thousands of ballots were mailed from China.

As the New York Times added:

“[Ballots are] receiving microscope and ultraviolet-light examinations, apparently to address unfounded claims that fraudulent ballots contained watermarks that were visible under UV light.

“Untrained citizens are trying to find traces of bamboo on last year’s ballots, seemingly trying to prove a conspiracy theory that the election was tainted by fake votes from Asia.”

HR1/S.1 will stop all these draconian efforts, and more.

Specifically, it seeks, in part, to:

Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams, holding the seat the late Civil Rights-era icon Rep. John Lewis held, stated:

“[The bill] will put a stop at the voter suppression that we’re seeing debated right now. This bill is the ‘Good Trouble’ he [Lewis] fought for his entire life.”

A full breakdown of its sweeping provisions can be found here.

The Senate needs to pass S.1.

But, as Vox reports, there are several obstacles.

The first is none other than the filibuster, a racist anachronism invented to placate a once-insatiable slave-holding South.

The second issue is the number of centrist Democrats — WV Sen. Joe Manchin and Ariz. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema paramount among them — perfectly fine with the current Senate rules, gridlock and all.

As Vox’s Andrew Prokop wrote:

“The third problem is that, even if Democrats lined up the votes to abolish the filibuster somehow, Manchin has said he’s inclined to oppose any party-line effort to overhaul voting in the country. If Manchin holds firm on this, the For the People Act is essentially dead.”

Prokop adds:

“The party has near-unanimity around the bill in public, with all but one House Democrat voting for it, and every Senate Democrat except Manchin co-sponsors it. But some members of the Congressional Black Caucus aren’t thrilled about it (fearing its redistricting reforms would dilute predominantly Black districts), and moderate senators have doubts as well.”

So what’s to be done?

All 50 Democrat senators — Joe Manchin included — must not only support the bill, but a Senate rules change to advance S.1 with a simple majority and circumvent a filibuster.

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) has the power to put pressure on Manchin.

So, of course, does President Biden.

Biden hosted Manchin and others at the White House this week to discuss the American Jobs Plan.

We don’t know if S.1 was part of that dialog.

In the meantime, we can contact our senators at 202–224–3121 and let them know our concerns.

They work for us, after all.

Ted Millar is a teacher, poet, and political writer for Liberal Nation Rising, Liberal America, and the Left Place blog.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store