What We Want: A Fair, Representative Democracy
The last few years have tested the strength of this nation’s democracy.
Baseless, bad-faith claims of voter fraud have resulted in ever-more-restricted access to the ballot. Following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby vs. Holder, which gutted parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, in many states, strict voter ID laws were passed, access to early voting was restricted, and thousands of voters were purged from the rolls – all to address a virtually nonexistent problem.
We know better. So do you.
Moves like these disproportionately affect people of color. Intentionally. They are meant to reduce minority voter turnout and roll back years of progress on voting rights.
“The 2020 election, like the 2018 midterms, featured historic levels of voter mobilization — the highest in over a century, even in the face of a deadly pandemic. But there were also unprecedented efforts to thwart the electoral process and disenfranchise voters, primarily in Black and Brown communities, based on lies about ‘voter fraud’ (culminating in the violent attack on the Capitol),” the Brennan Center for Justice writes. “Extreme partisan gerrymandering continued to distort far too many races for the House. And despite increased engagement by small campaign donors, the most expensive campaign in American history was still largely bankrolled by a small coterie of individual megadonors and entrenched interests.”
What’s become clearer than ever is that our government isn’t working the way it’s meant to – or the way we need it to – if we’re going to solve the climate crisis.
Because we know that to make meaningful progress on climate and other policy issues we care about, we need a fully functioning democracy the people can trust.
A democracy where the public interest, not special interests, guide decision-making. Where the people can put faith in our leaders to do the right thing – for us and for our country. Where all voices are heard.
One that’s truly by and for the people.
Luckily, with a new president and a new Congress, we have the chance to think big and act boldly to restore confidence in our democracy and protect against future voter suppression.
There’s even legislation already on the table to do it!
For the People Act of 2021
The For the People Act is a once-in-a-generation democracy reform package to clean up our political system, expand and protect voting rights, end partisan gerrymandering, get dark money out of politics, strengthen ethics standards for our leaders, and create a democracy that values the voices of every American.
It was passed in the US House of Representatives as H.R. 1 in early March 2021 and is now set to be considered in the Senate as S. 1, a show from both houses of Congress of the seriousness with which they are taking the integrity of our democracy and the fairness of our elections.
The bill itself is divided into three categories – voting, campaign finance, and ethics – that together aspire to create the change necessary to ensure that every American voice is heard.
The For the People Act outlines several steps for securing the right to vote for all and protecting the system against fraud.
It does so by modernizing the US voter registration system through automatic voter registration, formalizing same-day and online registration for all, and offering protection against targeted voter roll purges.
The Act would also restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which as we mentioned earlier, had a bunch of holes shot through it by the US Supreme Court in 2013, and restore or extend voting rights to people whose prior criminal convictions prohibit them from voting even after they have paid their debt to society.
Passage of H.R. 1 would also see our existing mail voting systems strengthened and make nationwide early voting a reality.
Thanks in large part to another problematic Supreme Court decision – 2010’s Citizens United vs. FEC – a small group of extremely wealthy donors exert outsized influence on the American political system.
The For The People Act would go a long way toward scaling back said influence by creating a small-donor public financing system for federal elections. Candidates for elected office would no longer need to turn to mega-donors to fund their campaigns, and more normal working Americans could contribute to candidates who have their backs – and not the backs of Big Polluters and other bad actors looking to kick the can way down the road on climate action.
It would also look to overhaul the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by instituting necessary changes like reducing the number of commissioners from six to five, establishing a presidentially appointed chairperson, and streamlining the commission’s campaign finance violation enforcement process. And it will get “dark money” out of politics by expanding donor transparency requirements.
You don't need to check recent polling to know that overall trust in the federal government today is low. Dangerously low.
And that’s a big problem. How can our democracy function if we can’t trust our elected leaders to do the right thing?
The For the People Act sets several requirements to avoid conflicts of interest, particularly in the Executive Branch. First and foremost, it would require the president and vice president to follow the same ethics guidelines as every other federal employee, as well as disclose their tax returns.
The Act also further empowers the entity that enforces compliance of ethics rules in the Executive Branch, known as the Office of Government Ethics.
Over at the Supreme Court, the act would require the creation of a code of ethics that justices must adhere to.
Which sort of seems like a thing that should have already existed to us.
What You Can Do
At the end of the day, the For the People Act aspires to do one big thing: make our representative democracy truly representative by assuring that all Americans are equally able to advocate for themselves and their communities through the exercise of their Constitutional right to vote.
In so doing, it will clear the way for real progress on issues that voters like you care about.
Issues like the climate crisis. Like how we reach the ambitious emissions reduction goals set forth in the Paris Agreement. Like what kind of planet we leave behind for generations to come.
Getting there starts with the Biden Administration and Congress seizing the opportunity of this unique moment and rising to the challenge. Because democracy means we all get a vote. It means we all have a voice in the future of our country. No matter who we are, where we come from, or what we look like.
Are you ready to join the fight for a better, more-representative democracy – one where bold climate action is possible?
It starts with joining your local Climate Reality chapter.
Across the country, everyday Americans are joining Climate Reality chapters and working together for practical climate solutions in communities from sea to shining sea. These friends, neighbors, and colleagues are making a real difference for our climate when it matters – and you can too.