Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The ‘For the People Act of 2019’ won’t pass the Senate, but it should

Stand with the people, not donor interests
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The first legislation introduced by the new House of Representatives earlier this month has recently re-entered the news after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned it as a “power grab” by Democrats.

The proposed bill, the For the People Act of 2019, addresses a wide range of issues, targeting voter suppression, gerrymandering, political ethics and campaign finance law. Committee hearings in the House are currently underway and, given the majority party’s overwhelming support, it will presumably pass. But, due to Republican control in the Senate, it’s unlikely to survive another vote.

And that’s a shame. Bill H.R. 1 has the potential to seriously rehabilitate our democracy, specifically addressing the most serious grievances pervading our election system.

Starting with voting reform, the bill would limit voter suppression tactics, in particular strict voter I.D. laws which disproportionately impact minorities. In order to confront the United States’  low voter turnout rates (in comparison to other developed nations), current registration processes would be streamlined, allowing for online, same-day or even automatic registration. States could also no longer restrict mail-in ballots, which, incidentally, typically support Republican voters.

Some have argued such policies will enable rampant voter fraud, an excuse frequently used to justify heavy voter registration requirements. You will likely recall Donald Trump’s false claims that “millions” voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. In reality, no such widespread fraud exists. Case studies done on elections specifically investigated for voter crimes found incident rates of merely 0.0003 percent in Missouri, 0.0002 percent in New Jersey and 0.000009 percent in New York. Even then, many cases were due simply to administrative error.

In the 2016 presidential election, 14 percent of non-voters avoided the polls due to a lack of time. The bill would address this difficulty specifically, creating mandatory early-voting periods for federal elections and a new federal holiday on Election Day.

Of course, low voter turnout wasn’t the greatest threat our elections faced in 2016. Despite what the president may claim on Twitter, United States intelligence agencies all agree: Russia conducted an “unprecedented influence campaign.” The For the People Act would require social media sites, especially Facebook, to crack down on advertisements sponsored by foreign agents, and also provide public records of ad purchases worth $500 or more.

Campaign finance reform, however, wouldn’t end there. The act also includes the creation of a fund-matching initiative for House candidates running on small donations exclusively. Along with an update of the public financing system, the bill would additionally prohibit super PAC “shadow campaigns” that support individual candidates.

Regardless of some politicians’ strong opposition, these policies are overwhelmingly popular among citizens. A Pew Research Center study found that nearly two thirds of Americans want to legally limit the amount spent on campaigns, and it’s easy to see why: In the 2016 election cycle, at a record breaking $1.8 billion, super PACs accounted for more than a fifth of all election spending. And the individual donors in these committees? Just the top one percent of donors alone raised over 86 percent of total super PAC funds.

The act spans over 560 pages, and lists more provisions than I have space to address. Other notable changes include a limit on gerrymandering, accomplished by taking the power to draw districts away from politicians and giving it to independent committees. It would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns, and inaugural committees to release their budgets. House members could also no longer serve on corporate boards.

Taken together, these policies amount to a significant revival of our democratic process that would demand transparency and ethical responsibility from politicians and return authority to the voices of the American public. When the For the People Act reaches the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Republican members of Congress alike will have to choose a side – either support voter suppression, large donor interests and hidden political spending, or stand with the people.

Sarah Almstrom is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • S

    Sitting BullFeb 5, 2019 at 10:42 am

    Voter suppression is a myth and concocted to get even more illegal aliens to vote than already do. Modernizing voting methods is definitely something that needs to be addressed, but I have first hand witnessed voter fraud in several cities in which I have lived. Voter fraud investigation is nearly impossible but the tactics used by Dems in the urban areas of America are simple, effective and entrenched due to extremely lax voter ID laws. It is absurd that you shouldn’t have to prove you are actually someone with the right to vote. Campaign finance reform and banning soft money/SuperPACs is definitely a much needed step. Gerrymandering on both sides has now nearly entrenched each party in its respective strongholds. At last count, I believe there are 13 Congressional districts nationwide that are considered “in play” in any given election. In the Northeast Democratic controlled strongholds, gerrymandering is practically an art form. The problem with these reforms is that it probably is to the detriment of the extremists now in control of both parties, so it isn’t going to happen. Something really bad is going to have to happen in this country for it to begin to come to its senses and move to the center again. This correction, unfortunately, will probably take at least another generation. If we survive this nonsense at all.

  • N

    NITZAKHONFeb 5, 2019 at 8:03 am

    In other words… Democrats didn’t win under the current rules, so change the rules. Just like Trump beat Felonia von Pantsuit in the Electoral College, so the Left wants to get rid of it. Instead of gaming the system, why don’t you come up with new ideas? Like, perhaps, jobs for minorities… meanwhile, under Trump, black unemployment is at record low, as is Hispanic unemployment, as is women’s unemployment… #walkaway

    Texas just found over 70,000 illegal aliens registered to vote; over 50,000 had voted. Pennsylvania found over 11,000 illegal voters registered. It can be credibly argued that NH went for Felonia because of fraud.

    Democrats are not to be trusted. Ever. HB1 intends to create a permanent Democrat majority. My plan:

    * To register to vote you must positively prove you are a citizen**.
    * To vote you must show a photo ID*** and when you vote you dip your finger in ink; it was good enough for Iraq, it’s good enough for here.
    * If you are found to have voted fraudulently, it’s a $10,000 fine and a mandatory five years in jail.

    *** If you think minorities can’t get IDs, you’re a racist.

    Ami Horowitz: How white liberals really view black voters
    –> Now, imagine this condescending attitude coming from Republicans;

    ** Democrats love illegals – they vote Democrat.

    Because if illegals voted “R” there’d be a wall… and a minefield.