H.R. 1, Voter Registration, and Us
On Wednesday, March 3rd, the House passed H.R. 1: the For the People Act. Former Vice President Mike Pence promptly called the bill “unconstitutional, reckless, and anti-democratic”.
Here’s why we (respectfully) disagree:
Subtitle A: Part 1: Online Voter Registration
H.R. 1 has a lot of great subtitles and parts, but Subtitle A: Part 1 (we’ll call it “the online voter reg section”) is easily one of our favorites. Somewhat intuitively, the online voter reg section requires online voter registration to be available for federal elections in every state. Today, 10 states still require would-be voters to register either by mail* or in person, with processes varying by state. Once a state receives a voter’s registration application, they then have to manually upload it to a computer database, a process that is expensive and prone to human error.
Voting rights activists, including the team behind the Voter Formation Project, have sought to help voters access registration information and applications, but it just doesn’t need to be this hard. This section of H.R. 1 would make voter registration easier, faster, and cheaper. As we said before, one of our favorites.
*Read: you have to print out a form and mail it, requiring you to own a printer and a stamp. I think we all know who’s being targeted with that one.
Subtitle A: Part 3: Same-Day Voter Registration
Same-day voter registration is often thought of as the voter registration path for the forgetful. Your friend who showed up to the birthday party 45 minutes late with flowers and a card from the gas station? He probably registered on election day. That is, if he could.
As of 2020, 29 states do not allow voter to register on election day, with many requiring registrations to be submitted more than four weeks before a given election. This disproportionately affects the registration status of voters of color, who are much more likely to have their initial registration applications rejected for clerical reasons (signature mismatches, wrongful purges, spelling errors, etc.) and find themselves ineligible to vote on Election Day.
Subtitle A: Part 3 would allow all eligible voters nationally to register and vote on the same day in federal elections, both on Election Day and during early voting periods. On behalf of gas-station-birthday-card-buyers everywhere, we’re in.
Subtitle E: Democracy Restoration
We’ll be honest: as much as we love Subtitle A, and all its many subsections, Subtitle E holds a special place in our hearts. Subtitle E restores the right to vote for formerly incarcerated Americans.
Today, approximately 5.85 million Americans cannot vote due to a felony or misdemeanor conviction. Black Americans make up a disproportionate part of that group, with 1 in every 16 Black adults disenfranchised, compared to 1 in every 59 non-Black voters. In seven states (Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming) more than 1 in 7 Black adults is disenfranchised as a result of a felony conviction.
With the passage of H.R. 1, millions of formerly incarcerated individuals would immediately regain their right to vote, period-- no expensive, drawn-out court cases, no fees, no fine print.
Bonus: Joe Biden’s Executive Order
Okay, so while not technically a part of H.R. 1, President Biden signed an accompanying executive order on Sunday, March 7th, marking the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”.
We will note that the president’s power over election law is limited (the states largely get to decide who gets to vote and how, which is why rates of voter participation vary so drastically by state), but President Biden’s executive order moves us in the right direction and signals the President’s commitment to voting rights.
In part, the order:
Directs the head of each federal agency to submit a strategic plan outlining how their agency will promote voter registration and participation,
Directs federal agencies to assist states under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, and
Provides voting access and education to all eligible individuals in federal custody.
H.R. 1 and President Biden’s accompanying executive order are not only not “anti-democratic”-- they are essential to preserving our democracy. And, while it provides a great roadmap for equalizing voting rights and voting access across states, the passage of H.R. 1 doesn’t mean our work is over. Once access to the ballot box is secured, we’ll still need programs to encourage participation in our electoral process at all levels-- and that’s where the Voter Formation Project comes in. We’ll keep doing our part, and you keep doing yours: call your senators today and urge them to vote “yes” on H.R. 1.
Thanks for reading, y’all! Talk soon.
“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” – James Baldwin