361 Reasons to Pass the For the People Act (And Counting)

Your access to the ballot box shouldn’t depend on where you live. 

But across the country, state legislators have proposed at least 361 bills to restrict voting rights. They want to purge voter lists, shorten deadlines, stop counting certain ballots, or even criminalize handing water to voters waiting in line.

Congress has the moral responsibility, and the legal authority, to stop these voter suppression bills by setting federal standards for federal elections. Enter the For the People Act, a huge reform bill already passed by the House and under consideration by the Senate. Among other things, it would expand voter registration options, end voter purges, allow all eligible voters to vote early or by mail, and shorten long lines.

Next week, President Biden will address a joint session of Congress for the first time. In the face of concerted efforts nationwide to roll back voting rights, he must take this opportunity to push the Senate to immediately pass the For the People Act.

Why now?

Our democracy is crumbling. You’ve seen the signs: rampant partisan gerrymandering, millions in dark money influencing our elections, dead-end obstructionism in the Senate, ethics violations, and — most visibly — those 361+ voter suppression bills in statehouses across the country.

This isn’t an “inside the Beltway” concern, either. Progressive Turnout Project spoke with millions of voters last year, and 24% told us corruption was their top issue — more than any other single issue.

The For the People Act (also known as H.R. 1 and S.1) takes aim at fixing what’s broken with a long list of measures under the umbrella of democracy reform. That includes free and fair elections, campaign finance disclosures, and ethics reform:

  • automatic, online, and same-day voter registration
  • minimum 15 days of early voting
  • mail voting options nationwide
  • independent redistricting commissions
  • campaign finance transparency
  • restored voting rights for formerly incarcerated people
  • allowing voters without ID to use a sworn affidavit instead
  • ending voter purges
  • support for DC statehood
  • stronger ethics rules for the legislative and executive branch

What’s at stake? 

Although Georgia’s SB 202 got a lot of attention, it’s far from the only anti-voter legislation introduced in 2021. As of March 24, the Brennan Center for Justice has identified 361 bills in 47 states with measures to restrict the vote. 

It’s a nationwide dumpster fire, fueled by Trump’s big lie about a “stolen” election and the absence of the Voting Rights Act since 2013. 

But the good news is that the For The People Act can protect us. Here are just a few of these egregious bills, and how the For the People Act fights back for voters.

Arizona: There are several bills here to choose from, unfortunately. SB 1593 stands out for unnecessarily moving up the deadline for mail ballots, requiring election officials to throw out any ballots not postmarked by the Thursday before Election Day, even if they’re received by Election Day. Existing Arizona law counts all ballots that arrive by the end of voting on Election Day. 

  • Mail ballot deadlines vary widely, with some states requiring “postmarked by” deadlines and others requiring that ballots arrive by a specific time, and some use both. The For the People Act requires states to accept all mail ballots postmarked by Election Day, if they arrive within ten days after Election Day. It makes sense, and more intuitive laws mean more people will have their vote counted.

Florida: Governor Ron DeSantis wants to change Florida’s election laws to reject more mail ballots due to signature mismatches — a change that this analysis shows could disenfranchise the governor himself. 

  • Poorly conceived signature-matching laws can disenfranchise voters whose signature changes over time due to disabilities, injuries, or any other reason. What’s worse, those decisions are often made by volunteer poll workers, not trained handwriting experts. That’s why the For the People Act would have potential signature mismatches decided by two trained election officials, and require states to give voters an opportunity to correct a signature mismatch, instead of just quietly discarding the ballot.

Montana: HB 176, signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte, eliminates same-day registration — which Montanans have been using successfully for 15 years — under the guise of “security.” 

  • The For the People Act requires all states to provide same-day registration, including on Election Day. Also included: automatic voter registration and online voter registration, nationwide.

Texas: Republicans here want to restrict voting options that (surprise!) Democratic-leaning areas used in 2020. One way they want to do that: reduce the number of polling places in larger counties, which predictably leads to long lines to vote and reduces participation. 

  • Nefarious actors love trying to disenfranchise voters with last-minute changes or deliberately misallocating resources. The For the People Act requires advance notice of at least 7 days to any changes to polling places, and requires states to allocate resources like voting machines and poll workers so that no voter waits more than 30 minutes in line. (Yes, long lines are voter suppression, especially for people with strict work schedules or limited transportation options.)

There are exceptions to the voter suppression trend, most notably in Virginia, where a Democratic majority just delivered Virginia’s own Voting Rights Act

But voters in Republican-run states are facing more barriers than ever, and Congress needs to act to set minimum standards for elections.

The path forward

By itself, the For the People Act won’t solve every problem. Other legislation, especially the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, will be critical to repairing elections and safeguarding voting rights.

But the For the People Act is a huge first step. All our other priorities as Democrats — mitigating climate change, ending police brutality, protecting LGBTQ youth, an infrastructure and jobs plan, and lots more — first require a functioning, responsive government.

We urge President Biden to use his April 28 address to make the case for the For the People Act directly to voters. Whatever it takes — yes, including eliminating the filibuster — we must take action now, before it’s too late. Building back better starts with protecting free and fair elections.

Can you take action to help pass the For the People Act? Join our coalition for a phonebank, training, or other action to build support for this hugely important bill.

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