On Wednesday, Democrats in the House passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021, which was introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.). The election reform package, if passed by the Senate, would transfer authority over how elections are administered from states to the federal government, subject private citizens, to intimidation and harassment for their private and political beliefs, and make permanent many voting rules that opponents say lead to voter fraud.
The 791 page-long H.R. 1 legislation package, which was marked up by members of the 116th Congress, was adopted without much debate. Some provisions, like ensuring that all voting machines used in U.S. elections are also manufactured in the United States or increasing access for voters with disabilities, are supported by both sides, but most other provisions are contentious.
The sweeping election reform package is divided into three major sections; the second section is the main body of the legislation, with three subsections: a) Voting, b) Campaign Finance, and c) Ethics. Section three is the Findings of General Constitutional Authority and section four is the Standards for Judicial Review.
These are some of the key changes to election laws in H.R. 1:
- Gives the federal government authority to administer elections: Although the U.S. Constitution gives states the authority to run their elections as they see fit, Democrats have interpreted the Constitution in their favor, stating in H.R. 1, “Congress finds that it has broad authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of congressional elections under the Elections Clause of the Constitution, Article I, section 4.”
- Limits a plaintiff’s access to federal courts when challenging H.R. 1: It would mandate that any lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of H.R. 1 could only be filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia and all plaintiffs would be required “to file joint papers or to be represented by a single attorney at oral argument.”
- Mandates automatic voter registration (AVR) in all 50 states (19 states currently have AVR): Democrats call this “modernizing” elections, meaning automatically registering any person that has given information to designated government agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, a public university, or a social service agency would be registered. It mandates same-day and online registration.
- Mandates no-fault absentee ballots: This provision would do away with witness signature or notarization requirements for absentee ballots. Additionally, it would force states to accept absentee ballots received up to 10 days after Election Day.
- Prevents election officials from removing ineligible voters from registries or confirming the eligibility and qualifications of voters: The bill would make it illegal to verify the address of registered voters, cross-checking voter registration lists to find individuals registered in multiple states, or ever removing registrants no matter how much time has elapsed.
- Restores the Voting Rights Act: This provision would require states to obtain approval from the federal government before implementing any voting rules changes. H.R. 1 would add a provision criminalizing “hindering, interfering, or preventing” anyone from registering or voting.
- Bans state voter ID laws: It would force states to allow individuals to vote without an ID and instead they could merely sign a statement in which they claim they are who they say they are.
- Ensures illegal immigrants can vote: The bill would shield non-citizens from prosecution if they are registered to vote automatically and agencies are not required to keep records of who declined to affirm their citizenship.
- Allows same-day voter registration: “Each State shall permit any eligible individual on the day of a Federal election and on any day when voting, including early voting, is permitted for a Federal election—to register to vote in such election at the polling place … [and] to cast a vote in such election.” The section includes a clause that requires same-day voter registration to be implemented in time for the upcoming elections in 2022.
- Requires registration for those under 18: “States to carry out a plan to increase the involvement of individuals under 18 years of age in public election activities in the State.”
- Prohibits the publication of “misleading information” about elections: The bill makes it a federal crime to “communicate or cause to be communicated information” that is knowingly false, and designed to discourage voting, carrying with it a sentence of up to five years.
- Allows felons to vote: It limits federal dollars to prisons of those states who do not register ex-convicts to vote. The provision is called the “Democracy Restoration Act.” The bill says that all felons can vote unless they are “serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility at the time of the election.”
- Mandates early voting: “Each State shall allow individuals to vote in an election for Federal office during an early voting period which occurs prior to the date of the election, in the same manner as voting is allowed on such date.”
- Legalizes nationwide vote-by-mail, without photo ID: States are required to provide for absentee vote-by-mail in elections for Federal offices and “may not require an individual to provide any form of identification as a condition of obtaining an absentee ballot.” A witness signature will not be required.
- Promotes ballot harvesting: The bill says states “shall permit a voter to designate any person to return a voted and sealed absentee ballot to the post office, a ballot drop-off location, tribally designated building, or election office so long as the person designated to return the ballot does not receive any form of compensation based on the number of ballots” and ” may not put any limit on how many voted and sealed absentee ballots any designated person can return.”
- Requires states to accept ballots 10 days after Election Day: The bill requires states to accept any mailed ballots postmarked before, or on, Election Day if they arrive within 10 days of the election. It allows states to expand that deadline.
- Prohibits state election officials from campaigning in federal elections: The bill bans “a chief State election administration official to take an active part in political management or in a political campaign with respect to any election for Federal office over which such official has supervisory authority.”
- Requires “Campus Vote Coordinators” at higher institutes of learning: The bill would require colleges and universities to hire an official whose responsibility would be to inform students about elections and encourage voter registration. It would incentivize voter registration by giving grants to institutions that have a high registration rate.
- Mandates that states make absentee voter boxes available for 45 days within an election: “In each county in the State, each State shall provide in-person, secured, and clearly labeled drop boxes at which individuals may, at any time during the period described in subsection (b), drop off voted absentee ballots in an election for Federal office.” These boxes should be “available to all voters on a non-discriminatory basis” and “during all hours of the day.”
- Requires curbside voting: States may not “prohibit any jurisdiction administering an election for Federal office in the State from utilizing curbside voting as a method by which individuals may cast ballots in the election.”
- Urges D.C. statehood and representation for territories: The bill complains that D.C. is not yet a state, adding, “The United States is the only democratic country that denies both voting representation in the national legislature and local self-government to the residents of its Nation’s capital.” The bill also appoints a commission that would advocate for congressional representation and presidential votes.
- Requires that “independent” congressional district commissions be set up: Taking power away from the state legislature, but evidence shows that “independent” redistricting commissions are in truth run by Democrats for their advantage.
- Creates a “National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions.”: The commission would study elections and produce a report after 18 months with recommendations for improving elections but would consist of 10 members, only four of whom would be selected by the minority party, giving the majority (Democrat) party control.
- Mandates new disclosure for corporations: The bill codifies the Democrats’ DISCLOSE Act, to restrict corporate participation in elections. Democrats say this provision will shed light on dark money. Republicans counter that the legislation’s transparency requirements would violate free speech rights.
- Oversight of online political advertising: The provision called the “Stand By Every Ad Act” would stop campaign dollars from covering any form of advertising over the Internet. Opponents say this would increase the cost of campaigning.
- Weakens the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, calling it “erroneous”: “The Supreme Court’s misinterpretation of the Constitution to empower monied interests at the expense of the American people in elections has seriously eroded over 100 years of congressional action to promote fairness and protect elections from the toxic influence of money.” It goes further to suggest “the Constitution should be amended so that Congress and the States may regulate and set limits on the raising and spending of money.”
- Allows politicians to use campaign funds for personal use: Under a provision called the “Help America Run Act,” the bill legalizes the use of campaign donations for personal expenses such as child care.
- Changes the composition of the FEC: The bill would decrease the number of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) members from six to five. Four members can be associated with a particular political party, making the fifth member “independent” but who would be nominated by a president associated with a party. Former FEC members have written to Congress, warning about this change and other related provisions.
- Changes rules “around conflicts of interest” for the president and vice president: It would require the president or vice president to divest all financial interests that could pose a conflict of interest for them, their families, or anyone with whom they are negotiating or who is seeking employment in their administration.
- Changes FEC rules to require presidential candidates to provide their tax returns: The bill states, “Not later than the date that is 15 days after the date on which an individual becomes a covered candidate, the individual shall submit to the Federal Election Commission a copy of the individual’s income tax returns for the 10 most recent taxable years for which a return has been filed with the Internal Revenue Service.”