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In The Public Interest: 'For The People' - A Comprehensive Set Of Protections For Voters

League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area
Lisa Barry
89.1 WEMU

This week on "In The Public Interest," our bi-weekly conversation with the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area, 89,1 WEMU's Lisa Barry talks to league member Mary Seelhorst about a bill now being considered by Congress that provides a number of protections for voters.

About the Issue

116TH U.S. House of Representatives bill HR 1, titled  “For the People Act”

About the Guest

Mary Seelhorst is the publicist for League of Women Voters Ann Arbor Area.  She’s a long-time Ypsilanti resident with a lifelong interest in government and politics.

What is HR 1 all about?

·         Expand voter registration

·         Implement fair redistricting

·         Outlaw voter purging

·         Restore the Voter Rights Act

·         ensure election security 

·         address public financing systems including improved transparency

To see the full text of the bill and to follow its progress through the Legislature, you can go to the official U.S. government site here.

HR 1 includes some provisions that are similar to those Michigan voters passed last year, which the League supported:

·         Proposal 3 was a constitutional amendment that included a provision to permit citizens to register to vote up until and on Election Day.  (Previously, Michigan citizens were required to register 30 days before the election.)

·         Proposal 2was a constitutional amendment that created an Independent Redistricting Commission.  (The commission will draw the district voting maps in 2121 following the 2020 Census. Today’s maps were drawn and adopted by the Michigan Legislature in 2011.)

What is the League’s position on this bill?

The many elements of this legislation align with the League’s long held positions and advocacy to ensure that our elections are free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Americans.

Why we need a comprehensive package of democracy reforms:   

·         It should be easier, not harder, to vote.  The For the People Act improves access to voting with reforms like Same Day Registration and Automatic Voter Registration. 

·         More needs to be done to protect voters’ voices.  The For the People Act requires independent redistricting commissions, ends voter roll purges based on failure to vote, and restores the Voting Rights Act. 

Since the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision rolled back key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, voters have faced a variety of obstacles, from reduced polling places to long lines, to strict voter identification requirements, to the unlawful removal of registered voters from the rolls. 

·         Our government should respond to the will of the people, not the interests of powerful corporations and wealthy donors.  

·         The For the People Act includes strong provisions for improving transparency in campaign finance and strengthening government ethics enforcement. 

Why does the League support HR 1?

·         Aligns with our mission

·         Will improve American elections by making our election system more free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Americans. 

·         The League worked behind the scenes to influence the language of HR1, including a push to include Same Day Registration.  Our organization has a rich history of working with Congress to improve registration on behalf of all voters.  

·         We are encouraged by the extraordinary and comprehensive reforms in HR 1 that are good for all Americans and deserve bipartisan support. 

What other organizations are supporting HR 1?

League is a member, along with nearly 150 other organizations, in a coalition called the Declaration for American Democracy.  Its mission statement is lengthy, but includes:

We, the undersigned organizations, reaffirm that at the opportune moment, we will work collectively to create and pass a series of fundamental reforms to rebalance our moneyed political system, empower everyday Americans, ensure equal justice for all, protect the public’s right to know, reduce barriers to participation in our elections, vigorously enforce voting laws, and fix our ethics laws.  We will not be satisfied with any single reform, and will continue to press for the structural changes necessary to rebalance power for people.  We will not accept anything less than a strong democratic system that reflects, responds to, and represents us.

What is the status of the bill?

·         Introduced January 3, 2019 and referred to 10 committees and subcommittees for hearings.  236 co-sponsors.

·         First hearing was in Judiciary Committee January 31.  As one representative remarked before the hearing, this was the largest crowd he had ever seen for an inaugural Judiciary Committee hearing.  Six expert witnesses were questioned.

·         Feb 26  Ordered Reported.  A committee has voted to issue a report to the full chamber recommenting that the bill be considered further.  Only about 1 in 4 bills are reported out of committee.  The House has indicated that the bill will be considered in the week ahead.

·         84% chance of being approved according to Skopos Labs

What is the League doing to encourage passage of this bill?

·         LWVUS Lobby Corpsvisited members of the U.S. House urging them to support HR1, the For the People Act.

·         League sent a letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives addressing HR1 as the bill needed to heal our country.

·         The League and members of the Declaration for American Democracy Coalition sent a joint statement from diverse groups to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of HR1, the For the People Act.

·         Susan Smith, our Ann Arbor Area League President, met with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell’s staff to explain why the League supports the bill and to urge her to support it as well. Leagues across the country met with their congressional representatives.

What can citizens do to support this legislation?

Call your legislators and tell them how important this package of reforms is to the future of our democracy.  Urge them to vote in favor of HR1. 

Find how to contact your representative here.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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