American democracy faced one of its greatest challenges in 2020 but also saw one of its most historic triumphs. As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country, there was much uncertainty around effectively administering an election during a serious public health crisis. Despite this, the American people and election administrators rose to the challenge. The 2020 election saw historic voter participation, with the highest number of citizens casting ballots in American history. As much as two-thirds of eligible voters cast a ballot. For the first time in politics, not just one, but both presidential candidates exceeded 70 million votes – with President Joe Biden shattering records, topping 80 million votes. But how, in the middle of a pandemic, could so many people make their voices heard? Across the country, it became easier to cast a vote due to changes to state election codes, often temporarily as a result of litigation, that expanded access to absentee voting or vote-by-mail. In an election with historic voter participation, the country saw nearly 50% of voters vote-by-mail.
By expanding vote-by-mail, voters experienced the most inclusive election in history. This shows how impactful expanding voting rights can be. The coupling of these changes with the promise of the For the People Act (or H.R. 1) can only further revolutionize and strengthen our democracy. The For the People Act is a sweeping piece of legislation with the most expansive democracy reform agenda we have seen since the Voting Rights Act. Specifically, the For the People Act puts power back into the hands of voters, making voting easier and more accessible, and modernizing future elections. The For the People Act promises sweeping changes to voting rights, money in politics, and redistricting —all of which are consequential to the League’s mission to defend democracy and empower voters.
- Voting Rights: The For the People Act expands voter participation and access beyond just improving the vote-by-mail system. The legislation institutes automatic voter registration (AVR), which will enable citizens who use government agencies —such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, a public university, or a social service agency — to be automatically registered to vote. This single change could result in as many as 50 million newly registered voters. Another crucial change includes requiring all states to provide online and same-day voter registration.
- Money in Politics: The For the People Act also tackles the reality of a broken and corrupt campaign finance system. It creates a small donor public financing system designed to elevate the voices of everyday people. This program would match some donations between $1 and $200 at a 6-to-1 ratio. For example, one person giving only $50 could turn into a $300 donation, therefore allowing the money of average people to go further and incentivize grassroots support of candidates and movements. The bill also establishes greater transparency in campaign finance by requiring the disclosure of those individuals who pay for campaign's spending or advertisements. This ensures more accountability in our elections process.
- Redistricting: The For the People Act also transforms how representation is determined, with much-needed reforms to redistricting. It requires an Independent Redistricting Commission to oversee district map drawing to ensure that there is not corruption or bias in the process — as well as requiring transparency to safeguard the entire procedure.
The For the People Act is once more before Congress and could be one of the greatest democracy reform packages in modern memory. We saw how expanding vote-by-mail resulted in the largest voter participation in history. Though no legislation is perfect, the sky is the limit for the power of our democracy if the For the People Act becomes law. It is long past time to increase access to voting, ensure all voices are heard, and root out corruption. As the 2020 election made history, so will the For the People Act as it revolutionizes our elections and the political process. It is now up to organizations like the League, activists, and supporters to ensure this bill moves forward to begin the transformation of our democracy for the better.;