House Democrats passed expansive legislation Friday aimed at increasing ballot access, including making Election Day a federal holiday, as well provisions for publicly financing elections and requiring presidents to release their tax returns.
The bill, known as HR 1, passed by a vote of 234-193 Friday. It has been a top priority for Democrats since the party took back the House in November, following an election marked in large part by voting rights issues, including Stacey Abrams’ refusal to concede in the Georgia gubernatorial election and the passage of Amendment 4 in Florida, which re-enfranchised 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people.
While many of the individual provisions have been considered in previous bills, progressive voting rights and electoral reform legislation has been essentially nonexistent since Democrats lost the House eight years ago, and the party has made HR 1 their top priority since taking back the chamber.
Though the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate — and even less likely to be signed into law by President Donald Trump — legislators and activists have cheered the bill’s passage as step one and hope it will become law should a Democrat win in 2020.
“In the years since the Supreme Court struck down critical protections in the Voting Rights Act, voters of color have faced intimidation, voter suppression and an outright theft of our electoral power,” Jennifer Epps-Addison, network president and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said in a statement Friday. “HR1, the For the People Act, is a step forward in ensuring that all of us, no matter who we vote for, what we look like, or what we believe, can have our voices heard in our democracy. It improves access to the ballot, strengthens election security, ends partisan gerrymandering, and bolsters oversight and accountability of elected officials. Democracy is best when all of us can participate in it.”
If signed into law, the legislation would create a national voter registration system and expand access to early online voter registration. It would also institute new donor disclosure requirements for political organizations and a 6-to-1 matching system to multiply small dollar donations to federal campaigns.
Additionally, HR 1 aims to end most first-class travel for federal officials and mandate a new ethical code for the Supreme Court, as well as requiring presidents to release their tax returns, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to do.
“During the campaign, Democrats declared unequivocally that we would clean up corruption to make Washington work for the people. We pledged to reduce the role of money in politics, to restore ethics and integrity to government, and to strengthen voting laws,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), the bill’s principle author, wrote in a Washington Post opinion column last fall. “We now have our marching orders. The new Democratic House is ready to deliver with H.R. 1: a bold reform package to restore the promise of our democracy — a government of, by and for the people.”
Provisions that would make Election Day a federal holiday, as well as implement a small dollar donation matching system, have attracted the ire of Republicans, in the month since Democrats introduced the legislation.
“I mean that’s such a dangerous bill that there are a lot of opportunities to showcase some of the radical elements like billions of dollars of taxpayer money going to political campaigns and some the voter fraud and things like harvesting provisional ballots are embraced by the Democrats even though they criticized it in North Carolina they embraced it in California,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) told The Hill recently. (Notably, Scalise is conflating the illegal practice of picking up ballots and filling them in for a certain candidate, as a Republican operative did in North Carolina’s 9th district for candidate Mark Harris, with the legal practice of picking up ballots for some absentee voters and delivering them to post offices or election offices without tampering with the ballots.)
In January, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell railed against making Election Day a holiday, arguing that it would be a giveaway to Democrats.
“This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy? A brand new week of paid vacation for every federal employee who would like to hover around while you cast your ballot?” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Just what America needs, another paid holiday and a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work for, I assume…our colleagues on the other side, on their campaigns.”
As McConnell predicted, HR 1 has passed in the House, but he has vowed not to bring it up for a vote in the Senate.
Asked at a news conference earlier this week why he would not bring it to the floor, McConnell smiled and said, “Because I get to decide what we vote on.”