Americans’ faith in their government is near historic lows.
Just before the beginning of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, only 18 percent of Americans said they trusted Washington lawmakers to do what is right “just about always” or “most of the time,” according to a Pew Research Center poll. Since then, public cynicism has grown even deeper, according to experts.
The new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is making a sweeping attempt to address those concerns, with H.R. 1 “The People’s Act,” a bill designed to tackle what many see as lingering and corrosive problems in American democracy.
From changing the way candidates fund their campaigns and addressing foreign election interference to automatically registering voters and reversing a U.S. Supreme Court decision on voter suppression, this ambitious legislation would significantly alter many areas of the democratic process.
“The general arc of our nation’s politics over the last generation has made it easy to be cynical,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Tuesday. “Easy to say that America has, in that time, increasingly tended toward an oligarchy, in which more and more of the political power is concentrated in fewer and fewer wealthy and powerful hands.”
The 2018 midterm election campaign fueled distrust in the electoral process amid reports of voter suppression in Georgia, Florida and elsewhere, and irregularities in absentee balloting in North Carolina.
McConnell sees ‘power grab’
But congressional Republicans say these reforms are an attempt by Democrats to centralize elections under federal oversight and are better left to state and local voting officials.
“They’re trying to clothe this power grab with clichés about ‘restoring democracy’ and doing it ‘For the People,’ but their proposal is simply a naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote in a Washington Post editorial published last week. “It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act.”
McConnell’s condemnation means the legislation has almost no chance of coming up for a vote in the U.S. Senate, which is firmly under the control of Republicans. The monthlong government shutdown delayed Democrats’ timeline for moving the bill through the House.
Four weeks into the new 116th Congress, the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing this week on some of the key issues in the bill.
Voters would be automatically registered to vote if the new bill is enacted. Currently, voter registration in the United States is voluntary. The bill would also make Election Day a federal holiday, helping free up some voters from work responsibilities so they can head to the polls. Critics of the provision say that would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
The bill would institute a nationwide restoration of voting rights for an estimated 6.1 million people with felony convictions. The state of Florida recently restored those rights for 1.4 million of its residents. This bill would end the practice of that decision being made on varied criteria at the state level. These post-Civil War era practices “have a significant racial impact,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, testified. (VOA)