Those of us in the Nevada Fair Democracy Coalition weather partisan attacks from the left and the right as we advocate for reforms. The chips fall, sometimes on our heads, but at this point we are steeled by experience. As Congress approaches a pivotal vote, we hereby dare go on the record once again. We are unanimous in our assessment of HR 1 (S. 1 in the Senate): The For the People Act is a good bill. It is fair; it empowers all voters equally; and it helps address the outsized influence of big money in deciding who runs, who wins, who gets to make decisions that affect us all.
The Brennan Center has an outstanding annotated guide to all the particulars of the Act, but here are some of its strengths. HR 1 supports clean and fair elections by improving access, promoting integrity and ensuring security. Notably, our favorite section ends partisan gerrymandering for congressional elections to prevent politicians from picking their voters instead of the other way around. The bill also limits the dominance of big money in our politics by guaranteeing disclosure, empowering citizens and strengthening oversight. We love transparency!
Under HR1 all organizations involved in political activity must disclose their large donors. It prevents special interests from hiding funding sources. It tightens rules on Super PACs. Importantly, the Act includes, if you will, an ethics vaccine, with its overhaul of the Office of Government Ethics, its closure of loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents, its provisions for sufficient resources for governmental watchdogs to enforce the law and its creation of a long overdue code of ethics for the Supreme Court. We think voters of every persuasion will cheer the development of a national strategy to protect U.S. democratic institutions, increased oversight of election system vendors, verifiable paper ballots and funding to encourage risk limiting audits (RLA’s), which ensure with a high level of statistical probability that electronic tallies are accurate. All these will go far in improving voter confidence in elections results.
One section remains controversial for some. It would grant representation to American citizens in the District of Columbia. Whatever the political calculus, the provision is quintessentially American. DC’s population exceeds that of Wyoming or Vermont, pays taxes as we all do, and yet they have no agency in Congress. Folks against it who otherwise howl about taxation, representation and cherished freedoms, deform themselves in rhetorical knots that blatantly reveal toxic self-serving proclivities in petulant style.
We are heartened that the Nevada congressional delegation in both the House and the Senate supports HR1, with a notable exception: Congressman Mark Amodei. Whatever his loyalties, other than to the voters of his district, his official response to date includes serious, dare we say, misleading statements.
One: Amodei writes. “Article I of the U.S. Constitution also grants each state the responsibility for administering the voting process for federal elections. Currently, the Nevada Secretary of State’s (SOS) office oversees each county clerk and voter registrar office in the State of Nevada.” True. But nothing in HR1 contradicts these stipulations. Amodei, a lawyer by training, knows that. Specifically, Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 directly empowers Congress to structure federal elections except for the specific polling locations:
“The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.”
Two: Amodei writes, “As you know, the For the People Act was introduced by Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) on January 4, 2021. This legislation would upend the longstanding history of state and local control over the electoral process...” On this, Amodei is just wrong. State legislators, our secretary of state and county registrars/clerks will still have plentiful input on how to structure our elections including considering such things as open primaries and ranked choice voting if Nevadans so desire. Moreover, HR1 only applies to the congressional district maps. Our Legislature will still have power to draw all other maps.
Three: Amodei writes, “In 1975, the Federal Election Commission was established to monitor regulations and laws related to elections, campaign finance, and candidates filing for office.” Certainly Amodei knows that under former President Trump, the commission was deeply impaired so it could not even meet. HR1 restructures the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to end the partisan paralysis that has made it tragically ineffective. It would reduce the number of commissioners from six to five, with no more than two commissioners from any one party (effectively requiring one commissioner to be an independent tiebreaker); require a bipartisan blue-ribbon advisory commission to publicly vet potential nominees; end the practice of allowing commissioners to serve indefinitely past the expiration of their terms. It would also streamline the FEC’s enforcement process by giving it a real chairperson to serve as chief administrative officer and empowering its career staff to investigate alleged electoral violations and providing for stronger judicial review of FEC enforcement decisions.
Voters have learned much in recent years about the games pols play and the anti-democratic, anti- American extremes they are willing to embrace. If any party or candidate believes that strengthening legitimate voting procedures and reducing disproportionate financial influence are bad for their political ambitions, then it is they who need to adapt to the will of the voters, who are disgusted with attempts to rig the system in favor of wealthy donors or to thwart the will of the majority. Anyone you see, whether Republican, Democrat or independent, opposing HR 1 with their vote or in the courts, is doing so to further their own interests, not yours.
Doug Goodman is Founder and Executive Director, Nevadans for Election Reform. Sondra Cosgrove is Chair, Fair Maps Nevada. Vivian Leal and Laura Hale are members of Indivisible Northern Nevada’s Fair Democracy Team.