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Revitalizing Democracy

The For the People Act would strengthen democratic systems and make it easier to vote.

January 19, 2021
Samuel Corum/Getty
us capitol

Wednes­day at noon, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take the oath at the very spot where, just two weeks ago, an insur­rec­tion­ary mob egged on by the outgo­ing pres­id­ent stormed the Capitol to stop the count­ing of the people’s votes. Not since Abra­ham Lincoln in 1861 has the cere­mony been so fraught. They take office, too, as the coun­try mourns 400,000 dead from the pandemic. We all cheer and pray for them to meet the moment.

At the Bren­nan Center we believe that the best way to defend demo­cracy is to strengthen demo­cracy. Coming months can usher in a time of reform and change — and, yes, we know that the Senate is evenly divided. But there is wide hunger for a renewal of our systems of self-govern­ment.

What goals should the new admin­is­tra­tion push? Today we’ve published a policy agenda for the admin­is­tra­tion’s first few months. It includes a number of key changes — from crim­inal justice reform to ending racial and reli­gious profil­ing — many of which can be done by exec­ut­ive action.

Most notably, in the drive to protect and improve our demo­cracy, today marked a big moment.

The new Senate lead­ers have said they will intro­duce the For the People Act as the first bill in the session. It will be S. 1 as well as H.R. 1. That’s a big deal. It’s signi­fic­ant, too, that the lead spon­sors of the bill are incom­ing Major­ity Leader Charles Schu­mer and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Jeff Merkley. This responds to twin crises facing our coun­try: the attack on demo­cracy reflec­ted in the assault on the Capitol and the demand for racial justice.

The legis­la­tion would be the most signi­fic­ant demo­cracy reform in more than half a century. It incor­por­ates the key meas­ures that are urgently needed. Auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion to modern­ize our elec­tions. A national guar­an­tee of free and fair elec­tions without voter suppres­sion. Small donor public finan­cing to curb the corrupt­ing role of big money. An end to partisan gerry­man­der­ing. A restor­a­tion of ethics through­out govern­ment. A commit­ment to restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act.

Racial justice cannot be fully achieved in this coun­try without a system in which all Amer­ic­ans can advoc­ate for them­selves and exer­cise polit­ical power — and that requires voting rights, fair access to the ballot, fair redis­trict­ing, and an equit­able campaign finance system. The For the People Act creates such a system.

This elec­tion showed the passion­ate commit­ment to our demo­cracy reflec­ted in the highest voter turnout in over a century, despite the pandemic, voter suppres­sion, and pres­id­en­tial lies. We’ve known for a long time that the demo­cracy we cher­ish needs renewal and reform.

This is a historic moment. By Wednes­day after­noon, we will have a new pres­id­ent and vice pres­id­ent (the first woman — and the first Black and South Asian person) who can effect­ively lead. We have a lot to recover from, and it may take decades. But Congress is right to start with the For the People Act.