H.R. 1 - For the People Act of 2021
Statement Regarding the Introduction of S. 1 in the US Senate
With the introduction of the For the People Act in the U.S. Senate (S. 1), Congress is one step closer to protecting the most sacred tenet of our democracy, the right to vote. The bill is a sweeping reform package that will strengthen that hallowed right to vote, especially in Black, brown and indigenous communities, as well as for the elderly and students.
When enacted, the For the People Act will:
Make voting more accessible for everyone
End partisan and racial gerrymandering
Get dark money out of politics
Restore transparency and accountability in our government
Our organization was founded in 2006 to fight against barriers to voting faced by traditionally disenfranchised communities. Too many states have enacted voter suppression laws since but after the historic turnout in the 2020 election, 43 states have introduced, prefiled, or carried more than 250 bills to restrict or limit voting access this year and next, with the intention to silence the voices of voters, particularly people of color and students, who in the past election cycle voted in record numbers. This is the most direct assault on our democracy since the Voting Rights Act was passed more than 50 years ago.
We urge the Senate to swiftly pass S. 1 and send it to President Biden so he can sign it into law. There is nothing more essential to our democracy than the freedom to vote. These common-sense reforms will fortify that freedom for everyone.
- Robert Brandon, President & CEO
A Brief Overview
Goals of the act are threefold:
To expand Americans’ access to the ballot box.
Reduce the influence of big money in politics.
Strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.
Division B—Campaign Finance.
Our focus is on Division A- Voting, major provisions include:
Online Voter Registration (only needing last four of SSN).
Automatic Voter Registration.
Same Day Voter Registration (Election Day and Early Voting).
Pre-registration (at age 16).
Felon Re-enfranchisement (upon release).
Early Voting (min. 15 consecutive days).
Universal Vote by Mail (pre-paid postage).
Grants, disability access, out-of-precinct provisionals, paper ballots, redistricting commissions!
Campus Vote Project Intern Emma Godel moderates a conversation between CVP Student Advisory Board Members Katya Ehresman & Kevin Ballen as well as Democracy Fellows Jeremy Johnson & Raymond Barber to discuss HR1. If passed by the Senate, HR1 - the For the People Act of 2021 - would represent one of the most significant advancements of voting rights since 18-year-olds became legally allowed to vote (by constitutional amendment, might we add) or the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law. Stirrings of meaningful institutionalized civic engagement on college campuses, same-day voter registration, improved student access to ballot boxes, removal of dark money from politics, buttressing of ethics rules in politics, oh my! But what hurdles does it face? Does it go too far, or perhaps not far enough? Is student voting actually sexy, or are you just a try-hard for trying to get people to vote? Students weigh in.
2020 was an historic election which saw the largest voter turnout in our country's history with nearly 160 million Americans voting. And this in spite of the global COVID pandemic, which derailed many states' primary elections, necessitating rapid changes to election laws and voting procedures, as well as threats of political violence.
Young people, and students in particular, were a large part of this outpouring of participation in Democracy, which is not surprising given the historic levels of youth and student voter participation we also saw in the 2018 midterm elections.
America needs the provisions in H.R. 1 and S. 1, The For the People Act of 2021, to put a floor under these tremendous levels of youth voter participation and allow us to reach even higher as we seek full participation of youth in our democracy. Despite these noted successes, and nearly 75% of votes in 2020 being cast before Election Day, we see partisan politicians in many states proposing bills to go in the opposite direction: rolling back expansion to early and absentee voting, preventing eligible voters from being able to successfully have their voices heard. And while, in a healthy sign for our democracy our newest voters turned out at historically high levels, states like New Hampshire and Montana are proposing voter suppression bills explicitly targeting student voters.
The For the People Act, would expand access to voter registration, through online and same-day voter registration, and pre-registration for 16 and 17 year-olds. It will also expand access to voting through universal by-mail voting, a minimum early voting period, along with other needed election, campaign finance, and ethics reforms.
While we strongly support the passage of the For the People Act, we are concerned with the application of automatic voter registration (AVR) to colleges and universities. AVR is not a suitable solution for registering residential college students to vote, since, as Sec. 1901(d) of this bill recognizes, residential college students must decide themselves whether they are domiciled at their campus address or a prior home address for voting purposes. As such, a process that requires an institution of higher education to automatically provide the “residential address” for a student, and only for students on whose behalf the institution has made a determination they “reside in the state,” is incompatible with determining the intent and appropriate address of the student for voter registration purposes.
Fair Elections Center and Campus Vote Project believe that other parts of the For the People Act, which treat institutions of higher education as NVRA Sec. 7 agencies, with a requirement to provide an opportunity to register to vote including the necessary form, offer assistance in completing the application, submit completed forms to the appropriate election official on the students’ behalf, and provide the opportunity to affirmatively decline voter registration, best suits the needs of students voters. Student voters are some of the newest members of democracy and we strongly believe this more proactive approach to voter registration support is the best way to welcome these voters into the process.
Additionally, since this bill as drafted exempts states that already have and continue to maintain an AVR process through their motor vehicle departments--currently 20 states and D.C.--from the AVR provisions of H.R. 1, treating institutions of higher education as NVRA Sec. 7 agencies would better serve student needs and would not let students, many of whom do not have driver’s licenses, fall through the cracks by being offered neither opportunity to register.
An exception to this recommendation is that AVR as envisioned in this bill, i.e.with the institutions transferring student addresses without student input, could be successfully implemented by campuses without residential students, such as community colleges, where the student population resides locally and is not generally relocating for the purpose of attending the institution.
The For the People Act provides essential repairs to the processes of our Democracy after recent assaults. We strongly support the passage of the bill and hope that it can be improved by removing colleges and universities from the AVR section and instead designate these institutions as NVRA Sec. 7 agencies who provide individual opportunities and assistance to students that will both educate them on their right to vote and facilitate the process for those who do want to register to vote.