Election Reform Bill Expands Voting Rights

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Washington, February 15, 2019 | comments

In November, the American people voted for change and rejected the culture of corruption that is permeating Washington. Democrats have promised to change a system that is increasingly drowning out the voices of everyday Americans.

We are working to keep that promise.

The first piece of legislation Democrats introduced in the House  - the For the People Act (H.R. 1) - is a comprehensive reform bill to expand voting rights, reduce the influence of money in politics, and modernize our elections.

As a cosponsor of H.R. 1, I am pleased the following long-standing election reform bills I have authored are in this groundbreaking bill.

The Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act would end restrictions currently in place in 21 states that make voting by mail more difficult. Those of us in California have enjoyed no-excuse absentee voting for years and our fellow Americans in other states should have that right.  

Voters in all states would also be able to track their absentee ballot as they can in California. Voters could learn if their ballot was rejected for some reason and have an opportunity to fix the problem, greatly ensuring their vote is counted.

The Federal Election Integrity Act would prohibit an official overseeing that state’s election from playing a role in a federal campaign.

We all remember the focus on Florida in the 2000 presidential election. As the recounts were underway, Florida’s Secretary of State overseeing the recount was also a key player of then-candidate George W. Bush’s election campaign.

More recently in 2018, Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp clearly should not have been in charge of counting the votes in his election against Stacey Abrams.  How can voters be sure an election is run fairly if the official in charge has a vested interest in a certain outcome of that election?

The election reform provisions under H.R. 1 would make a number of other improvements.

It ends partisan gerrymandering, a process that enables politicians to pick the voters they want to represent and thus make their re-election easier. States would be required to establish independent commissions as we did in California to redraw congressional districts.

The automatic voter registration provision will increase voter participation as we have seen in the red and blue states that have implemented such laws.

The For the People Act further makes voting easier by expanding early voting and making Election Day a federal holiday. And it requires a verified paper trail for ballots, which is key to improving the security of our elections as it makes them auditable.

No one has to convince the American people that money in our politics is a huge problem. Polling shows that 65% of Americans say that special interests spending money in our elections affects them or their families.

And who can blame them? Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, outside spending has skyrocketed from $143 million in 2008 to $1.4 billion in 2016.

The For the People Act will create transparency in our campaign finance system by requiring organizations engaging in political activity to disclose their large donors.

It also lifts up small donors to the level of big donors with a public matching of small contributions that does not come from taxpayer funds. This will allow candidates to be competitive without the need to rely on big money donations.

Democrats are moving forward to bring the For the People Act to the House floor for a vote. Hearings are underway in a number of House committees, including a hearing this week in the House Administration Committee, on which I serve.  

The establishment is getting nervous and has already started attacking our efforts to purge elements of corruption from our political system going so far as to call H.R.1 a “power grab.” Actually, the For the People Act is the ultimate power move by the American people because they will be re-taking control of their political system.

The For the People Act will shift the balance of power away from an elite few who use exorbitant amounts of money to influence the system and puts that power back in the hands of American families where it belongs.

This editorial first appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune
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