February 13, 2019
An expansive bill recently proposed in Congress addresses a range of issues in the arena of elections and voting. H.R. 1, introduced by Rep. Sarbanes of Maryland, intends to ‘expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants…’ covers the three broad areas of voting, campaign finance and ethics.
For Praxis and our partners, this bill is important because studies have shown that communities where residents are civically engaged (including through voting), are communities that experience higher rates of health and wellness. Other research shows that when eligible voters feel like the system is corrupt, they are less likely to participate. In our estimation, HR1 is a step towards providing the needed transparency into an opaque system that currently does not inspire trust and confidence.
Below are some highlights of what HR1 proposes.
The bill takes proactive and responsive measures, outlining methods to curtail interference with voter registration and voter intimidation.
Notably, it restores Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4, found to be unconstitutional in 2013, named jurisdictions with histories of voter suppression as required to submit any proposed voting procedure changes for pre-clearance by the federal government. Read HERE to learn about how this decision impacted election access around the country through recently passed policies such as those limiting early voting, requiring ID at the ballot box, improperly purging voter rolls and other measures in a documented rise in voter suppression.
It further works to promote voter access through creating an Election Day holiday; expanding (national) automatic, same-day and Internet and university voter registration; and enabling the use of sworn written statements to meet ID requirements. In addition, the bill has a provision to extend federal voting rights to people with felony convictions – who, in 34 states, are not able to (immediately) vote including when/once they are not incarcerated and are under probation or parole.
The bill also gives independent, nonpartisan commissions redistricting power to prevent gerrymandering and promote the fair drawing of districts to accurately represent voters that reside in them.
Campaign Finance and Ethics
The legislation also carves out greater transparency around recently record-breaking outside/corporate contributions that have the immense financial power to go through legal loopholes to significantly influence elections and policy. If passed, it would also fortify online political ad disclosure requirements and enforce ways to prevent foreign purchasing of those ads and financing of other elections campaigning.
Further, the bill proposes a requirement that all major presidential candidates and sitting presidents release their tax returns going back 10 years. This would show the public the extent to which the president or candidate is dedicated to the country’s best interest and not other actors’.
Call or email your congressperson to share your thoughts on HR1 and how you feel about increasing transparency and curtailing practices that inhibit voter participation. Current bill cosponsors are listed HERE.