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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

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.