The political cartoon that appeared in the April 8 edition of The Riverdale Press notifying readers that Jim Crow is back ready to again crush voting rights is timely and frightening.
Georgia’s state legislature just gave itself the right to remove duly elected election officials. Numerous states are passing laws to make it more difficult for voters to vote.
Mail-in voting — which was normal procedure in 16 states — is being made cumbersome and expensive with notarization and witnessed signature requirements.
The number of drop boxes is being reduced, particularly in districts where Black and brown people reside. Early voting is being truncated, forcing long lines to discourage people from waiting to vote. Voter rolls are being purged.
Jim Crow is back — our democracy is in peril.
The For the People Act — if passed — prevents the most egregious aspects of the state laws, at least in federal elections. The Constitution affirms Congress’ power to protect the right to vote in the 14th Amendment, and to regulate federal elections, including congressional elections.
The For the People Act uses those powers to expand voting rights and prohibit actions designed to suppress voting. The need to pass the Act is urgent, so it is worth celebrating the contents of the bill.
Protections for the individual voter are the best-known aspects of the bill. It provides for automatic voter registration, and allows registration via the internet with electronic copies of handwritten signatures. It prohibits the requirements for notarized or witnessed signatures used to disqualify votes in 2020.
States must allow vote-by-mail, and voters must be notified of signature discrepancies and afforded the opportunity to “cure” the ballot. To protect the homeless, purging a voter on the basis of returned mail is prohibited. The bill bars purges of voter rolls.
The For the People Act prohibits the deception and voter intimidation seen in a few cases in the 2020 election. Spreading false information about day and time of elections, endorsements, and rules governing eligibility is a crime with federal penalties, and states must develop procedures for correcting false information.
For the People significantly expands the voting population. The bill restores voting rights to those with criminal convictions who completed their sentences. Election information must be provided to Native Americans in their own languages. These Americans are allowed to vote without providing a residential address — often impossible on reservation lands.
Provisions of the act are extended to all U.S. territories. The bill restores the Voting Rights Act of 1965, requiring pre-clearance of changes to state laws. And the bill declares Election Day a national holiday.
To protect election integrity, For the People requires all jurisdictions to use paper ballots that voters can mark by hand. Voters have the right to correct their ballots if they make a mistake, and states must preserve paper ballots for recounts or audits.
The bill requires two weeks of early voting — including weekends — for 10 hours a day, including some early and some late days. Polls must be within walking distance of public transportation, accessible to rural voters, and located on college campuses.
States are required to begin processing and scanning mailed ballots during early voting at least two weeks before Election Day to prevent the late changes in voting totals touted as fraudulent. States must provide requested ballots at least five days before the election, and accept any ballot postmarked before the election for up to 10 days after the election.
States are required to accept ballots in drop boxes, which must be equitably placed. To protect elderly and disabled voters, the bill prevents states from prohibiting voters from designating someone to return their ballot, and prevents placing any limit on the number of ballots a designated person can return.
It also prevents states from prohibiting any person from distributing mail-in ballot applications. States are required to develop tracking systems for applications and ballots, and store whether the ballot was counted. Recognizing the cost of these provisions, the bill provides money to assist states with system upgrades and training of poll workers to prevent long lines.
The 2016 and 2020 flood of corrupt and unethical practices in campaign finance, gerrymandering, administrative firings and deputy appointments are addressed in the For the People Act, but require a separate essay to detail. Here, only the more obvious shenanigans of the last elections are noted.
For the People requires, as law, candidates for the presidency and vice presidency publish 10 years of taxes in order to run for these offices, and requires any businesses privately owned by them to be put in a blind trust. The bill prohibits the post office from making any changes — such as removing processing machines or moving drop boxes — after 120 days before the election.
The bill prohibits election officials from overseeing any elections in which they are a candidate.
A famous trip to Scotland inspired the requirement that the Secretary of Defense submit reports to the House Armed Services Committee every 90 days, detailing the direct and indirect costs of all presidential travel and senior executive travel on military aircraft.
Lessons were learned. Now we need to pay attention to this bill and make sure it passes the Senate and becomes law. We cannot go back to sleep as the crow would wish.
We must tell our representatives in Congress that passage is not optional, and failure is not acceptable. Our democracy depends on it.