The U.S. House is set to begin debating H.R. 1 this week. The For the People Act is intended to expand voting rights. On Monday, Vermont at-large Congressman Peter Welch held a virtual roundtable with the Green Mountain state’s election officials and civic advocates to discuss the implications of the bill.
The For the People Act of 2021 says its intent is “To expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy…”
Vermont Democrat Peter Welch said the legislation is critical as voter suppression efforts increase across the country, using former President Donald Trump’s speech at CPAC on Sunday as an example.
“The trajectory of our democracy since it began, with that interruption after Jim Crow implementation, was always to try to expand access to expand the ease of access," Welch said. "And it’s based on that confidence that an informed citizenry and an engaged citizenry is good for democracy. And that we thought was going to be secure. But it’s under assault and very very aggressively here in Washington.”
Welch says the For the People Act is important to secure voting rights and access to the polls.
“This legislation that I hope will pass, I think we will in the House, it would eliminate partisan gerrymandering," he said. "And that’s somewhat controversial even among some people on my side but I think it’s really important. The voting district should be for the benefit of the voters not for the benefit of the incoming politicians. It would require more transparency. The presidential candidates would have to release their tax returns. And it would provide for automatic voter registration. It’s getting increasingly difficult for that to happen.”
Welch emphasized that the Vermont approach to voter procedures should be the national model.
“It’s about doing everything possible, everything possible, to make it easy for people to vote,” said Welch.
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos cited statistics from the Brennan Center showing 33 states are working on a combined 165 bills to limit voter access to the polls.
“To me the real voter fraud is the denial of any eligible voter the right to cast a ballot," said Condos.
Condos, also a Democrat, says it’s time for Congress to pass minimum voting standards.
“I think it’s clear that the time has come for Congress to step up to ensure that voters do not face insurmountable or unnecessary barriers," Condos said. "Overall I’m strongly in favor of the direction of the election administration reforms proposed by H.R.1. Vermont is an example of a state that has already enacted most of these voting rights and voting right reforms while maintaining the proper balance between access and security. In light of the wave of legislation restricting voting rights we’ve also seen introduced recently in statehouses across the country it’s time for the federal government to play this expanded role.”
Vermont’s top election official said H.R. 1 is the antidote to unprecedented anti-voter attacks nationwide.
“We need to be really careful about what reforms make sense for us to mandate nationally," Condos said. "We can’t allow the former president and his political operatives to continue to sow confusion and distrust through election misinformation. In 2020 our democracy was pushed to its limits and it survived – barely. We must now take all of these hard earned lessons and move forward. The policies we have in place in Vermont can serve as a beacon for these critical national reforms.”
According to the Brennan Center, there are also 541 bills in 37 states to expand voter access.