To Strengthen Democracy, Follow NY: Congress’ For the People Act Follows in the Empire State’s Footsteps

Jun 9, 2021
In The News

Since Democrats won a majority in the New York State Senate in 2019, we’ve passed long-overdue laws to strengthen our democracy. New York now has a public campaign finance program that encourages elected officials to fund their campaigns through small donations from New Yorkers rather than big donations from the wealthy and special interests. We have also reduced barriers to voting by lengthening voting hours, expanding early voting and making it easier to vote by mail. These reforms are popular with voters. For example, a majority of voters in nearly every New York state Senate district support automatic voter registration. New York is by no means perfect. But we’re working hard to implement these historic reforms and pass additional measures that will speed up the counting of absentee ballots and make it easier to vote. Unfortunately, while New York is taking steps to encourage voting and reduce the influence of big money in the political system, states across the country are taking huge steps backward. Ripping a page from Jim Crow-era laws, these states are making it harder for people to vote, dropping voters from the rolls, and adding onerous new identification requirements that are hard for many low-income and Black and Brown voters to meet. Georgia made it a crime to bring food or water to people waiting in line to vote. The new laws being proposed across the country violate low-income and Black and Brown Americans’ fundamental constitutional right to vote. That’s why our elected officials in Washington need to seize the opportunity to pass comprehensive legislation to protect the freedom to vote, lift up the voices of everyday Americans, and limit the influence of special interests and the wealthy. Even before this year’s wave of voter suppression laws, our democracy was badly broken. In 2018, an estimated 3 million Americans waited 30 minutes or more to cast their votes, with many waiting for hours. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Black and Hispanic voters were more likely to wait than white voters — and when they were forced to wait, it was for almost 50% longer. The disenfranchisement of voters of color is hardly new. Our nation’s Constitution was founded on the reprehensible three-fifths compromise, which determined each state’s taxation and representation by counting three-fifths of the enslaved population, while denying enslaved Americans the right to vote for their own representatives. During Jim Crow, Black people faced bad-faith, discriminatory literacy tests, poll taxes, beatings at poll sites, voter roll purges and even whites-only primaries. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 — one of the culminations of the civil rights movement — ended that shameful era. It outlawed all discriminatory election practices, like literary tests, and prevented states from enacting new ones. But in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the VRA, allowing states with long histories of discrimination against voters of color to change their election laws without advance federal review of whether those changes were discriminatory. Immediately, these states rolled out laws restricting voting rights — hitting voters of color the hardest.Today, Congress is ready to renew our democracy through a bill called the For the People Act. The federal bill, passed as H. R. 1 in the House and pending in the Senate as S. 1, applies some of the best lessons from the states to improve our democracy at the national level. In fact, New York pioneered three of the bill’s most important provisions. The For the People Act would establish automatic voter registration, bringing 50 million new voters into our democracy. It would reduce the impact of wealthy donors, by creating a national public financing program. And it would implement an independent redistricting process. The bill would not stop there. If passed intact, the For the People Act will ensure that states cannot shut out Black and Brown voices from federal elections. It will eliminate restrictive identification requirements and prohibit purging voters from the rolls on the basis of unreliable evidence. And by requiring a minimum of 14 days of early voting and offering universal mail-in voting, the bill will reduce the unacceptable, exclusionary waiting that particularly burdens Black and Brown voters on Election Day. The For the People Act already passed the House and has the strong support of our U.S. senators, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. We know firsthand that getting a complicated piece of legislation through a closely divided legislative body is never easy, but our democracy depends on passing this bill intact. We cannot compromise the future of our Republic. As our senators advance this vital piece of legislation, we, and all of New York, have their back.