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The Senate’s Big Chance to Stop Voting Rights Rollbacks

The For the People Act is the only way to stop the nationwide wave of state voter suppression legislation in one fell swoop.

May 11, 2021
Hill Street Studios

On Tues­day morn­ing, the Senate began the process of debat­ing and amend­ing S. 1, the For the People Act. It’s not a moment too soon. The legis­la­tion passed the House in March, and in the months since, Repub­lican elec­ted state offi­cials have been work­ing over­time to roll back the simple, common­sense meas­ures that allowed our coun­try to conduct a safe and secure elec­tion this past Novem­ber. S.1 may be the only thing that can stop them.

Take Flor­ida: A day after Elec­tion Day, Gov. Ron DeSantis crowed that his state’s elec­tions were “a model for the rest of the nation to follow.”  But last week, he signed into law a bill that makes it harder for state resid­ents to register to vote, to vote by mail, and to access secure ballot drop boxes. And he did this while banning most press from the sign­ing cere­mony and giving exclus­ive access to Fox News, which broad­cast the spec­tacle live.

A day later, legis­lat­ors in Texas also pounced, work­ing in the middle of the night to advance legis­la­tion that bans elec­tion offi­cials from send­ing mail ballot applic­a­tions to registered voters if they didn’t request one. The bill also expands the power of partisan poll watch­ers. We’ve iden­ti­fied the intro­duc­tion of similar legis­la­tion in at least 19 other states; it’s a recipe for expos­ing voters to harass­ment and intim­id­a­tion for simply cast­ing a ballot.

The rationale for these legis­lat­ive assaults on the fran­chise is always some version of “elec­tion integ­rity.” Even the author of the Texas bill, State Rep. Briscoe Cain, admit­ted the Novem­ber 3 elec­tion was free and fair. Why the need for this legis­la­tion then? “The purpose of this,” accord­ing to Cain, “is to make them even more safe and secure.”

But anyone not engaged in such polit­ical theat­rics knows the real reason the nation is awash in over 360 bills to restrict voting rights. They stem from Trump’s Big Lie that the elec­tion was stolen from him and his contin­ued inab­il­ity to admit defeat. Even the politi­cians who acknow­ledge the elec­tion was free and fair, like Cain, are curry­ing favor with Trump’s base for fear of the consequences of not join­ing in.

That’s why Congress must move quickly to pass the For the People Act. It would set a national baseline for voting rights that is popu­lar with all voters — Demo­crats, inde­pend­ents, and, yes, Repub­lic­ans.

All voters would receive absentee ballot applic­a­tions and be able to vote by mail without oner­ous and unne­ces­sary ID require­ments. It would also require states to provide two weeks of early voting. And voters would have easy access to secure ballot drop boxes. 

The legis­la­tion isn’t just about protect­ing Amer­ic­ans’ free­dom to vote. It also will reduce corrup­tion in govern­ment by prevent­ing special interests from buying our elec­tions. 

These ideas will make voting less of a struggle for hard-work­ing Amer­ic­ans and increase voters’ faith in our demo­cracy. And despite claims to the contrary, it is not some federal takeover of elec­tions: Under the Consti­tu­tion’s Elec­tions Clause, Congress has the power — and the respons­ib­il­ity — to ensure every Amer­ican can parti­cip­ate in our demo­cracy without jump­ing through ridicu­lous hoops inten­ded to block their votes. It’s time the Senate puts that power to good use and passes S. 1.