Policy Summary: Article One, Section Four, Clause One of the United States Constitution states
“The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Representatives and Senators, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations[.]”
On January 4, 2021, Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced H.R.1, better known as the “For The People Act of 2021.” The bill is a massive comprehensive bill that seeks to address a number of issues associated with voting and elections. The bill is divided into three sections – Voting, Campaign Finance and Ethics.
The Voting component of the bill addresses Election Access by promoting the availability of online voter registration, automatic voter registration (AVR), standards for provisional voting and standards for voting by mail. The bill also promotes Voter Access by promoting voter friendly policies such as Election Day as a holiday and minimum notification requirements for polling place changes.
The Campaign Finance Section of the bill imposes additional disclosure and disbursement of campaign funds requirements, disclosure of contributions to PACs prior to an election and the proposal of a new small dollar financing framework for federal candidates.
The Ethics Section of H.R.1 seeks to impose a new ethical code for federal judges as well as for the federal legislative and executive branches and a new requirement for the disclosure of tax information for future presidential and vice – presidential candidates.
On March 7, 2021 President Joe Biden signed the Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting. The Executive Order will direct federal agencies to expand access to voter registration and election information and also direct federal agencies to assist states under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
Policy Analysis: The two separate measures which were approved this week both address voter access and election administration issues that emerged during the 2020 election season but differ widely in their approach. The starting point for voter and election issues begins with Article One, Section Four, Clause One of the U.S. Constitution. That clause places the power for the administration of elections with the various states. That clause is the reason why there has been no uniformity in election practices across the country. As an example, all states have an absentee ballot component in their state laws but the power of the various states illustrates that there can be little differences. There can be a deadline of receipt of an absentee ballot by Election Day in one state and a deadline of seven days after Election Day in another state. These differences may seem inconsequential but in the 2020 chaos of a pandemic and falsehoods about voting these differences were magnified more than they should have been.
With H.R. 1, the Democratic controlled House of Representatives has signaled that expanding voter access and improving election administration will be a priority for the Democratic Party during this session of Congress. While states have been exercising their power to set rules for elections in their respective states by introducing a wave of bills to restrict voting Congress has decided to act by introducing a number of proposals that States should implement along with the enticement of financial assistance and grants for the States from the Federal Government. Some of the key provisions of H.R. 1 are not new but update existing laws such as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002. There are updates that seek to utilize the Internet to help people register to vote and updates to the absentee ballot framework such as prohibiting voters from having to request an absentee ballot every year and allowing them to register for an absentee ballot once. The bill also encourages the use of independent redistricting commissions to prevent gerrymandering and also encourages youths under the age of 18 to register to vote. This bill is big, bold and comprehensive and tackles alot of voting related issues that, even if some provisions do not pass, still require a discussion about whether it should be something included in voting laws that may be passed in the future.
While H.R.1 addresses a significant amount of voting issues and faces a looming roadblock in the evenly split Senate, President Joe Biden’s executive order of March 7, 2021 tries to address what can be done now. President Biden has directed all federal agencies to report to him on what they can do to help expand voting rights. Additionally, he has directed all federal agencies to assist states under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). This is significant because federal agencies that provide services to minority and underserved communities in a state can now provide their facilities to states to act as a voter registration center. People now don’t have to make long journeys to state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or local voting offices. A federal agency providing unrelated services can now, with the approval of a state, offer voter registration services. This may sound like something that should have already been in place but for whatever the reason that had not been the case. With this executive order, President Biden has potentially expanded the options citizens, specifically underserved communities, have for where they can register to vote. This is an option that can be implemented relatively quickly unlike H.R.1 which will likely take months before it’s provisions are sorted out not to mention an upcoming difficult vote in the Senate.
It’s only been two months but the Democrats in Congress and President Biden have hit the ground running in tackling the voting issues that need to be addressed after the chaotic 2020 election season. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
Brennan Center for Justice – non – profit group advocating for voting rights.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – non – profit group’s webpage on voting rights.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.