While congressional Republicans remain overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, opposed to the For the People Act, a new survey found strong bipartisan backing for the wide-ranging bill that would set new standards for elections.
The survey — conducted by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank and polling firm, for Vox — found that 69 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat support the bill when told it would "make it easier to vote, limit the influence of money in politics, and require congressional districts to be drawn by a non-partisan commission so that no one party has an advantage." That breaks down as 85 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans. (Note that voter ID and so-called ballot harvesting, among the most partisan elements of election administration, were not mentioned.)
No Republican voted in favor of the bill, also known as HR 1, when Democrats pushed it through the House of Representatives, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans have vowed to block its passage in the Senate. Republicans say the legislation would damage election security while Democrats claim it would make elections more fair.
Pollsters broke the bill down into a handful of its major components to gauge support for individual provisions, some of which were heavily backed by all three political groupings. For example, limiting the influence of money in politics was supported by 86 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of independents and 80 percent of Republicans. Modernizing election infrastructure to increase security had similar numbers (90/83/77), as did preventing foreign interference in elections (85/82/82).
Support for a 15-day early voting period and nonpartisan redistricting commissions both received more than 50 percent support across all three categories as well.
A handful of other proposals did not crack 50 percent among Republicans.
- Automatic voter registration: 81 percent Democrats, 59 percent independents, 44 percent Republicans.
- Same-day voter registration for eligible voters: 84/49/49.
- A vote-by-mail option for all voters: 84/64/38.
- Restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences: 72/54/39.
- Limiting voter roll purges: 73/51/48.
Again, voter ID and collecting ballots on behalf of voters were not among the topics queried.
The pollsters also asked respondents about replacing the current system of drawing congressional districts with a proportional representation system in which each state's U.S. House delegation would be based on the statewide vote share. Just over half of all respondents said they would support such a system, including 63 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of independents and 41 percent of Republicans.
But when more context was added to the question, opinions shifted.
In one version, respondents were told: "Some lawmakers in Congress are considering changing Senate procedure to allow for this proposal to pass with 51 votes, rather than 60 votes, meaning Democrats could pass the bill without support from Republicans." Asked how they felt about changing Senate procedures to pass the bill, overall support dropped 4 points to 47 percent. Democratic support rose, while backing among Republicans and independents dropped significantly.
In another question about the proportional representation plan, questioners said, "Supporters of this say we should create these standards so that everyone's vote can count equally and no one party has an advantage over the other in drawing district lines, making our elections fairer. Opponents of this say that it is a power grab by politicians who want to pick their voters rather than the other way around."
When faced with this language, 70 percent of Democrats voiced support, as did 50 percent of independents. But only a third of Republicans backed the proposal.
The survey was conducted April 16-19 of 1,138 likely voters with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. See the full results here.
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Scott is a staff attorney at the Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy organization .
Researchers heralded the 2020 presidential election as having record turnout, with two-thirds of eligible voters casting a ballot. Yet, people overlook how this calculation excluded 5.1 million potential voters.
Currently, 48 states deem some residents ineligible to vote if they have a felony conviction. No matter how long ago that conviction occurred, or how the person's life may have changed since, states restrict their right to participate in elections.
While there is a growing trend towards modifying state laws to make voting easier for those with felony convictions, other states remain committed to suppressing votes. Even where advocates and policymakers have tried to change antiquated laws and improve systems, the most egregious states refuse to improve. They continue to treat voting as a privilege instead of the right it actually is.
Where these states insist on acting against full democracy for their residents, Congress is in a unique position to assure the basic right for all to have a voice in our political process. By passing the For the People Act — which the House passed in March as HR 1 and is now awaiting debate in the Senate as S 1 — we can make history in expanding the franchise to millions.
Felony disenfranchisement has existed for centuries. But beginning in the 1890s it was strategically used in the United States to minimize the Black electorate, especially in Southern states. Legislatures created laws to permanently remove a person's right to vote — or to only restore that right if certain requirements were satisfied, many of which were unfair, confusing and burdensome to navigate. Today, these laws continue to lock millions out the electoral process, disproportionately affecting voters of color.
Advocates have worked to reform these laws, crafting bills to simplify criteria and pushing state constitutional amendments to expand access. In spite of several significant wins in the last decade, states including Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida and Wisconsin adamantly persist in denying millions a full place in society.
According to a new report from my organization, Mississippi is one of the worst violators. The state's highly punitive law disenfranchises 235,150 Mississippians — one out of every 10 people in the state's voting-age population. For Black Mississippians the number is even higher: one in seven. Residents can only restore their rights by obtaining an individual order from the governor or winning passage of an individual bill by the Legislature. That process in particular is inaccessible and arbitrary, with legislators passing a very small percentage of such proposed bills. In the decade ending in 2017, for example only 45 people had their voting rights restored through legislation. Every year, legislators deny thousands of tax-paying citizens the right to choose their representatives and support measures that impact their communities. Mississippi lawmakers send their residents a clear message: We refuse to give up our oppressive and discriminatory system.
Florida is another place where the Legislature is failing to act in the interest of its residents. In November 2018, more than 64 percent of Floridians voted to restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million people. The following spring, though, legislators reversed one of the largest expansions of voting rights in decades. It passed a bill requiring payment of legal fines and fees before a person could vote. These additional barriers drastically shrank the number of newly eligible voters and made a person's right to vote dependent on wealth. Florida lawmakers clearly chose suppression over the will of the people.
Congress has an opportunity to remedy state inaction and voter suppression by passing the For the People Act, which President Biden says he's eager to sign. The comprehensive legislation includes a provision that ensures everyone with a felony conviction may vote in federal elections if they are not currently incarcerated. The provision would supersede state felony disenfranchisement laws and expand the number of eligible voters for federal elections to millions across the country. Voting rights would no longer depend on geography or the whims of elected officials. All voters would be on equal footing.
The only way our democracy can thrive and truly represent the will of the people is if everyone has a voice in the trajectory of our country. People who live, work in and contribute to our communities deserve to have a voice in what happens to them and their families. Congress has the power and opportunity to give them this assurance by passing the For the People Act.
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Washington is poised to become the latest state to expand the voting rights of formerly incarcerated felons.
The state Senate on Wednesday voted 27-22 to approve a bill that would restore voting rights to 20,000 felons on probation and parole. The state House passed the bill last month, so it now heads to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it. At that point, Washington will join 19 other states in automatically restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions upon release from prison.
Returning the ballot to ex-convicts, who are disproportionately Black and Latino, is a cause that's generated a steady string of victories even as legislation to limit minority voting rights has gained traction nationally. The developments in Olympia come a week after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam used an executive order restoring the franchise to 69,000 felons in Virginia and anyone released from prison in the future.
Within weeks, 18 states will prevent felons from voting until they have finished their full sentence, including probation or parole and in 11 others there will be additional requirements.
Once Washington's measure takes effect, released felons will need to register again, even if they were registered prior to conviction.
The effort to pass this bill was led by Democratic Rep. Tarra Simmons, the first formerly incarcerated person in Washington to be elected to the Legislature.
Just passed my first bill off the Senate Floor! Off to the Governor's desk and couldn't have done it without amazin… https://t.co/TjPfkIfbAG— Tarra Simmons (@Tarra Simmons)1616636336.0
"At a time when many states are actively working to restrict voting rights, Washington state has been working to expand access to democracy," said Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer, who co-sponsored the bill with Simmons.
Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said this bill is a positive step toward racial justice in voting. Black people are four times more likely to be incarcerated in Washington than people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.
"Allowing people with past criminal convictions to vote is pivotal in welcoming them as full members of their communities. When individuals feel included in society, they have more success in building lives for themselves and their families," Morales-Doyle said.
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Baker is the executive director of We The Action, a nonprofit that connects progressive advocacy organizations with attorneys who are willing to volunteer their legal expertise.
After the election, I found myself reflecting on some of the final words from the civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis. "The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society," he wrote in an essay he asked The New York Times to publish the day of his funeral last July. "You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it."
Months later, as armed insurrectionists stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the outcome of an election, the nation watched the fragility of our democracy in real time.
Our democracy is only as strong as our willingness to defend it. And January's attack showed us that we can easily lose it altogether if we're complacent.
But every attack on democracy doesn't look like an armed mob. Others are more insidious, systematically weakening our system by silencing voices, disenfranchising voters and excluding communities.
This sort of effort to weaken our democracy has begun to intensify in state capitals nationwide, with lawmakers pushing anti-democratic legislation to restrict the right to vote — if not take it away altogether.
One of the most brazen examples is a bill passed by the Georgia House to limit early voting on Sundays, undercutting the "Souls to the Polls" efforts used by predominantly Black churches to mobilize voters. Then there are the four bills in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that would end no-excuse mail voting — a bipartisan policy adopted in the state only two years ago. In Virginia, one of the few states electing legislators this year, one piece of legislation would prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes even if the pandemic continues to make going to the polls a danger for vulnerable populations.
And that's only the beginning. The Brennan Center for Justice counts 253 bills introduced in 43 states to restrict voting rights. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is considering gutting the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights law that Lewis himself championed before and during his time in Congress.
Defeating these anti-democratic efforts will require a robust, multi-pronged approach, and lawyers will play a major role.
My organization, We The Action, is an online clearing house for more than 40,000 lawyers throughout the nation who are willing to volunteer on the most pressing issues facing the nation — voting rights chief among them. Lawyers bring unique skills to bear in the fights for justice and equity.
We saw the power of an energized group of attorneys firsthand during the 2020 campaign and in the election's aftermath. In all, 27,000 of our lawyers donated 170,000 hours to 52 organizations working to protect the vote. Speaking 10 languages, they staffed nonpartisan hotlines and answered thousands of voter questions. They updated voter guides in real time as municipalities adapted to restrictions imposed by the pandemic. They ensured votes were tallied fairly — and much more.
The last election has been called the most secure in history, and that's due in no small part to the work done by thousands of volunteer lawyers. But with legal challenges and suppression efforts increasing across the country these days, it is clear that our work isn't finished and that protecting the vote is bigger than any one election.
Exercising the right to vote isn't an activity we participate in once every two years. It is an all- year-round endeavor. We need to work every day to protect voters, especially those from communities of color and other disenfranchised groups. And we need to hold the line against campaigns to disenfranchise them, wherever those efforts are happening.
One notable example is the work of the lawyers volunteering with Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. By working one-on-one with individuals returning from prison and eager to navigate the labyrinth of red tape and fees required to reclaim their right to vote, lawyers are helping enfranchise a community that has been excluded from the voting process for generations.
That's the power of a lawyer dedicated to helping people. By donating just a few hours, those lawyers are opening doors for people who would likely have been excluded. And we need lawyers willing to fight for democracy more than ever.
The current work in Florida is just one example of attorneys on the ground — after the end of one election and before the next campaign gears up — to make voting easy, safe and accessible. We've seen lawyers work with non-English-speaking communities to ensure they could register to vote, support efforts to recruit 700,000 poll workers as staff shortages fueled by Covid-19 threatened to close polling locations, and monitor changing to laws to ensure all voters could cast their ballots.
The past four years have reminded us that our democracy is fragile. We can't take it for granted, and ensuring everyone has an equal vote will require lawyers to be vigilant. It's our responsibility as lawyers to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law it represents.
We still have a lot of work to do, and this country needs lawyers now more than ever.
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