Our democracy works best when everyone has a voice and a vote
Simply put, democracy is a form of government in which the people have the authority to choose their governing legislators. “We” are the people. “We” chose our governing legislators by voting. H.R.1, For the People Act of 2021, is meant to protect your right to vote. H.R.1 will prohibit states from putting laws into place that abridge, deny or deprive any citizen’s right to vote. As a member of Congress, I’d vote YES to H.R.1! Jeff Van Drew voted NO.
Our hard-earned right to vote as American citizens is repeatedly guaranteed in the US Constitution:
- 15th Amendment, Section 1 states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The 15th Amendment sought to enshrine the voting rights of African American men after the Civil War and was adopted into the U.S. Constitution in 1870. Despite the amendment, however, by the late 1870s discriminatory practices were widely used to prevent Black citizens from exercising their right to vote, especially in the southern states.
- 15th Amendment, Section 2 states: “The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
- The 19th Amendment guarantees a woman’s right to vote would be adopted into the U.S. Constitution. The 19th Amendment’s ratification in 1920 was made possible by a long line of advocates dating back to the Founding of the nation.
24th Amendment, Section 1 states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.”
- 24th Amendment, Section 2 states: “The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
- 26th Amendment, Section 1 states: The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
- 26th Amendment, Section 2 states: “The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Following the Civil War in 1868, the adoption of the 14th Amendment gave black men full citizenship and promised them equal protection under the law. Blacks now voted, won elected office, and served on juries. However, within 10 years the federal troops safeguarding these Constitutional protections fully withdrew from the South returning it to local white rule – and the Jim Crow era of segregation was upon us.
“Jim Crow” was a derisive slang term for a black man. It came to mean any state law passed in the South that established different rules for blacks and whites. Jim Crow laws were based on the theory of white supremacy and were a reaction to Reconstruction. In the depression-racked 1890s, racism appealed to whites who feared losing jobs and civic authority to blacks. Southern states began to limit the voting right to those who owned property or could read well, to those whose grandfathers had been able to vote, to those with “good characters,” or to those who paid poll taxes.
A poll tax is defined as a tax of a fixed amount per person levied on adults, often linked to the right to vote. The Constitution makes it illegal to levy a poll tax. Adding onerous and unfair steps to voter registration is a modern-day form of a poll tax.
After the 2020 presidential election, at least 63 lawsuits were filed contesting the elections in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Lawsuits were even filed with the US Supreme Court. The baseless lawsuits were rejected. However, those who want to reduce the votes that get counted are now introducing legislation at the state level to make it harder to vote.
For our fellow citizens who are poor, having to track down and pay for the citizenship documents may be an insurmountable obstacle. If you can’t find your documents and don’t know how to or can’t afford to obtain them, you can’t vote. Many of our poorest citizens will not know this until they are turned away from their polling place. No one should denied their right to vote because they are too poor to have the internet or a smart phone or a television. Taking away their right to vote because they can’t afford the luxuries that many of us take for granted is unconstitutional.
The 14th Amendment explicitly states that “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Once again, Section 2 of this Constitutional Amendment authorizes Congress to use it’s power “to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” H.R.1, For the People Act of 2021, is meant to do exactly that. Key provisions of H.R.1 are summarized below:
Summary of H. R. 1
“This bill addresses voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government.
Specifically, the bill expands voter registration (e.g., automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (e.g., vote-by-mail and early voting). It also limits removing voters from voter rolls.
The bill requires states to establish independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting.
Additionally, the bill sets forth provisions related to election security, including sharing intelligence information with state election officials, supporting states in securing their election systems, developing a national strategy to protect U.S. democratic institutions, establishing in the legislative branch the National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions, and other provisions to improve the cybersecurity of election systems.
Further, the bill addresses campaign finance, including by expanding the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals, requiring additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending, requiring additional disclaimers regarding certain political advertising, and establishing an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices.
The bill addresses ethics in all three branches of government, including by requiring a code of conduct for Supreme Court Justices, prohibiting Members of the House from serving on the board of a for-profit entity, and establishing additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for federal employees and the White House.
The bill requires the President, the Vice President, and certain candidates for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns.
As NJ District 2’s member of Congress, I’d vote YES to H.R.1!