OPINION: Congress must pass the For the People Act to expand democracy

A young man drops off his ballot at an official drop box.
The For the People Act is an important step in substantially expanding voter rights. (Ethan Diaz • The Student Life)

The For the People Act of 2021, or H.R. 1, is a bill that seeks to increase voter rights through expanding voter registration in the form of automatic and same-day registration and through expanding access in the form of mail-in voting and early access voting. 

To be clear, H.R. 1 is not without flaws. Its provisions could affect free speech in the form of money and nonprofit donors’ spending, along with targeting paid advocacy and political speech among immigrants. However, as two ACLU lawyers point out, these issues can be easily fixed.

Despite strong opposition and claims that it will undermine the integrity of elections and encourage voter fraud, it provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen U.S. democracy, not attack it. However, unless a significant movement mobilizes to get it passed, it faces a very difficult path in the Senate. So, we must step up and spread the word. 

The real threat to the integrity of elections is not voter fraud, which is quite rare, but rather voter suppression and manipulation of elections in the form of partisan gerrymandering and excessive campaign finance spending which prevent elections from being a truly level playing field. 

Far from incentivizing voter fraud, the For the People Act would actually further improve the validity of elections by expanding the vote and thus leading to election results that more accurately reflect the views of U.S. residents. It would require states to permit voting without an ID, which may seem like a manner to commit voter fraud but really prevents the purging of voter rolls while also enabling felons to vote after leaving prison. 

Voting is one of the most crucial aspects of a functioning democracy and is afforded to all productive citizens. If the stated goal of incarceration for those in favor is to rehabilitate individuals in order for them to become productive citizens, then enabling them to vote is one of the best ways to achieve this. 

In addition, the For the People Act would enact near-automatic voter registration, a system which similar countries have and that fixes the current unnecessary two-step process, along with several other efforts to make voting more accessible. 

At the same time, in the aftermath of the 2020 election, several states have sought to pass legislation that would instead restrict ballot access, as over 250 laws in 43 states have been proposed in order to make voting more difficult under the guise of preventing voter fraud. Again, the evidence shows that there was no significant voter fraud in any state during the past election, an irrefutable fact that has been confirmed not just by Democrats but also by Trump appointees in the FBI and Justice Department. 

In fact, even The Heritage Foundation, which claims that the For the People Act threatens U.S. democracy and election integrity, has only documented 193 instances of mail ballot vote falsification between 2000 and 2020, a 20-year span wherein it is estimated that there were about 250 million votes by mail ballot. Thus, we can see that regardless of opinion, an unbiased review of the data should come to the conclusion that there was no significant voter fraud. 

This bill should not be a partisan issue, but it has become one in Congress. Republican opposition to the For the People Act has been powerful, as it passed the House with zero Republican votes. Republican opposition appears to center on claims that it will encourage voter fraud

In addition, opposition likely comes from Republican elected officials’ concern that expanded voting may help Democrats in their elections. This means that getting it through the Senate may prove challenging, especially if there is a filibuster

However, it is important to note that a majority of Republican voters, along with Democrat and third party voters, are actually in favor of the bill, indicating a discontent between Republican politicians and voters and also a great shared capacity for mobilization around expanded voting rights.

Thus, it bears repeating that among a majority of voters, this is not a partisan issue but rather an American issue, and one that is especially important for 5C students, many of whom are socially and politically active. Many of us will likely be voting in either our first or second midterm election next year, so it goes without saying that we have a vested interest in a truly free and fair election where our voices are heard. In addition, it should especially concern 5C students who may come from areas particularly affected by voter suppression or know others who do. 

Ways that we can help include raising awareness and calling our local elected officials to urge them to vote for and voice their support for this bill. Additionally, we should spread the word via social media and, if able, donate to or publicize mutual aid funds.

It will not be easy, but if this bill gets passed, we will be one step closer to leveling the playing field of U.S. democracy. 

Rakesh Peddibhotla PZ ’24 is from Fremont, CA. He enjoys learning about issues of social justice and international relations, as well as playing the trombone and singing.

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