In 2016 I stood outside my polling place, as I do every election, encouraging people to come in and vote. That year, I talked with a neighbor for about 15 minutes, and after our conversation, he decided to cast his ballot. Then we discovered that he wasn’t registered, and it was too late to register him for that election. He was so disappointed and discouraged.
I often wonder if he ever attempted to vote again. If Pennsylvania followed the lead of 21 states and the District of Columbia to allow same-day registration, he could have registered to vote on the spot. And why not?
Here in Pennsylvania, 14 new bills have been introduced in 2021 that make it harder to vote. If they get passed, there will be even more barriers for voters by our next election. For instance, you would have to show a picture ID before you vote—if you don’t have one, you can’t vote. If the signature does not match your previous signature, your ballot will be rejected. Drop boxes for ballots will be eliminated. Voter registrations could be purged from the voting rolls.
Fighting these Jim Crow era-type bills are supporters of the federal For the People Act (H.R.1, S.1). The For the People Act, which had a hearing this week in the Senate, will call for standardized guidelines for absentee voting and adequate periods of early voting—whether there is a pandemic across the country or not.
This legislation would reduce the influence of money in politics. It would bring dark money into the light by requiring political groups to disclose their largest donors and adding transparency rules for online political ad spending. It would also crack down on political corruption by requiring more stringent conflict-of-interest rules for members of Congress and Executive Branch officials. I know how money can have an outsized influence on a candidate’s ability to win. This is something I saw firsthand across races when I ran for city commissioner in 2019.
The Senate must pass [the For the People Act] if only to remind every American that voting isn’t a privilege we aspire to; it’s a right that all our forebears won for us to exercise.
Another key component of the For the People Act is automatic voter registration (AVR). AVR requires every eligible citizen who interacts with a designated government agency, such as a public college or DMV, to be automatically registered to vote unless they decline. If this was fully adopted nationwide, it could add over 50 million newly eligible voters.
AVR would have helped my neighbor and the thousands of other Pennsylvanians who are not registered to get easy and fair access to vote.
How many times have voters, like the man I met in 2016, been turned away because of our country’s outdated voting laws? Needless to say, the For The People Act covers a lot.
Voting is a nonpartisan issue. Let’s not erect barriers to participation based on partisanship. Instead, let’s make voting, well, as democratic and inclusive as possible.
We must rebuild public trust in our democratic institutions by enacting laws requiring transparency and making it as easy as possible to participate in our elections.
The For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) is the most significant voting rights and democratic reform in more than half a century. The Senate must pass it if only to remind every American that voting isn’t a privilege we aspire to; it’s a right that all our forebears won for us to exercise.
Jen Devor is a Point Breeze resident and co-founder of Better Civics, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to civic engagement and voter turnout.Photo by Unseen Histories / Unsplash