Leaders urge Biden administration and Congress to double down on democracy reform by passing H.R.1—the For the People Act—as a top priority post-election
Leaders from the Declaration for American Democracy—a coalition of over 170 organizations serving the public interest—joined democracy reform champions House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Chair of the House Democracy Reform Task Force U.S. Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), on a press call to highlight the urgent need for federal leaders to advance bold change in our democracy.
The speakers called for the immediate passage of H.R.1—the For the People Act—a once-in-a-generation democracy reform package to clean up our political system, get big money out of politics, hold elected officials accountable for corruption, expand and protect voting rights, and create a democracy that values the voices of all Americans.
The need to repair our democracy has become even more evident in recent months leading up to the election with voter intimidation efforts across the country and the sometimes confusing rules around voting that differ in each state. The For the People Act would eliminate confusion and increase access to the ballot.
Below are statements of support from leaders of organizations in the Declaration for American Democracy coalition.
Jana Morgan, Director, Declaration for American Democracy:
“We all want a country where elected officials represent their constituents more than their big dollar donors. We want a country where our leaders at the highest levels are ethical and are held accountable when they are not. We want a country where all voters get a fair chance to vote and have their vote count. The Biden-Harris Administration and new Congress now have the chance to change the system and allow our country to truly realize the promise of American democracy.”
Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen:
The American people overwhelmingly favor ensuring all Americans have health care coverage and aggressive measures to cut drug prices. But we don’t get the policies we want – because our democracy is broken. The transformative policies of the For the People Act will heal not just our democracy but, quite literally, the American people.
Vanita Gupta, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“Our democracy works best when everyone participates. When people can’t equally access the ballot and when they are not adequately represented in the ranks of power the promise of our democracy goes unfulfilled. Lawmakers, regardless of party, should care about making sure that we have a democracy that works for all – and H.R. 1, the For the People Act, includes critical reforms that would address the challenges voters faced across the nation this year. We urge the next Congress to pass this critical civil rights bill.”
Valarie Long, International Executive Vice President, SEIU:
“Essential workers in Black, brown and Asian and Pacific Islander communities turned out in record numbers and sent a clear message: respect us, protect us, pay us,” said Valarie Long, International Executive Vice President of SEIU. “To make our demands a reality, we need to pass HR1 right away. Workers need a stronger voice in our democracy and a seat at the table to tackle structural racism, win health care for all, and ensure all workers can form a union and get paid fairly for the work they do.”
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club:
“This election further exposed the blind spots in our democracy, and the urgency with which Congress must act to address them. Access to our democracy must not be determined based on where you live, the color of your skin, or how much money you donated to a candidate; rather, it must be available for all people. The Sierra Club is proud to rise with our allies across the movement in support of Speaker Pelosi, Representative Sarbanes, and Senator Merkely’s bold and necessary H.R. 1, which will strengthen the integrity of our democracy and protect our environment by reigning in the inequitable influence of corporate polluters and extractive industries in our elections.”
Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center of Justice at NYU Law:
“This election showed how much people care about the strength of our democracy. Despite voter suppression, despite the pandemic, we saw the highest voter turnout in over a century. Democracy reform must be at the center of our politics. To respond to the call for racial justice, to ensure that our government can work for all, democracy reform must not only be a top priority but a first step. The For the People Act would be the most sweeping reform in a half century. Critically, it would reform campaign finance, expand voting access, end partisan gerrymandering, and uphold ethics. All these aspects of our system need repair. And it would address many of the problems we have seen in recent weeks.”
Neera Tanden, President and CEO, Center for American Progress:
“The need for sweeping anti-corruption and pro-voter reforms has never been more urgent than now, after the nation witnessed four years of rampant abuses that threaten the very fabric of our democracy. President-Elect Joe Biden, along with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer, have listened to everyday Americans and made the For the People Act a top priority so that the government works for everyone – not just the wealthy and corporate interests. This historic legislation will enact anti-corruption reforms that will allow Americans to trust our government again, prevent voter suppression, and curb the wave of dark money that has an outsized influence on Congress. It’s time to address these abuses of power and prevent them from happening again.”
Virginia Kase, CEO, League of Women Voters:
“The 2020 elections saw the greatest voter participation in more than 100 years. We want to build on that momentum and make voting even more accessible to ensure our democracy is inclusive and represents all of the people it serves. The For the People Act will not only restore voting rights but end gerrymandering and build trust in our elections. This piece of legislation is ready to unite the country in our commitment to making democracy work.”
Ben Jealous, President, People For the American Way:
“Now that the election is won, the real work begins. Americans turned out to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris because we want our government back and we want our country back. Our communities of color in particular have been shortchanged for decades by a system that suppresses our votes and gives too much power to wealthy special interests. The For the People Act will help end voter suppression, get big money out of politics, crackdown on corruption, and stop the cycle of disenfranchisement and disempowerment of the people that has gone on for far too long. This legislation is about putting power back where it belongs, in the hands of the people, and we will work to make it a reality.”
Karen Hobert Flynn, President, Common Cause:
“American deserve free and fair elections, but this year voters faced unprecedented obstacles to keep them from voting. Voters were forced to overcome not just a global pandemic, but also a president who tried to suppress our right to vote by spreading disinformation, sabotaging the U.S. Postal Service to block vote-by-mail, and filing lawsuits nationwide to create barriers to voting. Nonetheless, we the people prevailed.
“If the For the People Act (H.R. 1) hadn’t been blocked by Sen. McConnell for more than 18 months, even more Americans could have safely voted this year. Common Cause and our 1.5 million members will continue fighting to pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1) because our voices matter and deserve to be heard in our democracy.”
Tiffany Muller, President, End Citizens United // Let America Vote Action Fund:
“President-elect Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress all believe our democracy works best when every voice is heard and every vote is counted. We look forward to working with them to prioritize and pass comprehensive reforms to end the dominance of big money in politics and secure and expand the right to vote, as a first priority of the next Congress.”
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, President, Democracy 21:
“By the end of the 2020 national elections, a staggering $14 billion had been spent on the elections, more than double the $6.5 billion spent in the 2016 presidential cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“This includes a record-breaking $2.6 billion in outside spending funded by massive contributions that have a powerful corrupting influence over government policies. On the other side were millions of ordinary Americans who made small, non-corrupting contributions – their donations, primarily made online, also set records in the 2020 election cycle. Small donors provided a total of $2.7 billion – or 22 percent of the contributions raised for the 2020 elections, according to the Center. So long as the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision is the law of the land, we cannot prevent outside groups from spending unlimited contributions in federal elections. But what we can do is dramatically increase the role and importance of small donations by enacting the small donor, public matching funds system contained in H.R. 1. This would provide federal candidates with the funds they need to run competitive races while being free from the grip of influence-seeking megadonors.
Amanda Ballantyne, Executive Director, Main Street Alliance:
“A strong small business economy can only happen if the government is released from the clutches of corporations and wealthy interests that pay top dollar, often anonymously, to influence elections and lobby officials, drowning out the voices of everyday voters. Regulatory agencies are being run by the corporations they are supposed to monitor. If Americans, and small business owners are going to see progress on the policy issues we care about, we must have a democracy that responds to the needs and priorities of voters – not wealthy donors or corporate interests. The reforms in the For the People Act (H.R. 1), coupled with the The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act (H.R. 4), will get big money out of politics, restore voting rights, and offer new protections for voters, end gerrymandering so that electoral districts are fairly drawn and hold government officials accountable with new ethics standards. This will help return power to the people and small business owners in their communities.”
Saumya Narechania, Campaign Manager, All On the Line:
“Passing HR1 is a critical opportunity to end gerrymandering at the congressional level and combat voter suppression tactics that are sadly very much still alive,” said. “All On The Line will train and provide tools for grassroots volunteers across the country to call on elected officials to pass HR1, as well as continue the fight for fair maps throughout the 2021 redistricting process,” continued Narechania.”
Jason Miller, Director of Campaigns and Development, Franciscan Action Network:
As Franciscans, our Christian faith teaches us that we must recognize each person as a gift from God, and that we must emphasize the importance of the essential humanity and dignity of each person. And, as Pope Francis calls us to “meddle in politics” we interpret this concept as a requirement that all Americans must have an equal say in the public square. With that call in mind, the Franciscan Action Network calls on the Biden administration to make democracy reform a top priority of his administration. We know that in order to advocate on our other core issues of justice, peace, and integrity of creation, we must first fix our democracy.–
Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies, Demos:
“Black and brown voters once again went to heroic lengths to make their voices heard in this election. They did so despite the major structural problems with our democracy that continue to obstruct full and equal participation. Demos applauds Speaker Pelosi and the House Democracy Reform Task Force for prioritizing the creation of an inclusive democracy in the new Congress. HR1 is a profound structural reform package that will remove hurdles for Black and brown voters and democratize and diversify the base of political donors that determines who runs for office and who wins elections in the U.S.”
Wendy Fields, Executive Director, Democracy Initiative:
“We’ve just seen the largest, most inclusive election in U.S. history. Record voter turnout didn’t happen by accident. It happened because the democracy movement — powered by citizens in state after state — demanded and won voter-friendly reforms like same day registration, online registration, early voting and no-excuse voting by mail.
“Voting is too important to be restricted to a limited hours on a single Tuesday in November. We’ll keep up the fight to defeat voter suppression and expand access to the ballot in the states — and in the U.S. Congress, where we need a new Voting Rights Act, ethics reform and legislation to reduce the influence of big money in politics – bills like HR 4 and HR 1. When more people participate, democracy wins.”
Ann Toback, CEO, The Workers Circle:
Restoring voting rights and expanding voter protections is at the heart of HR1’s democracy reforms and a critical part of ending systemic racism. New forms of voter suppression, like Voter ID, have disenfranchised voters of color by design. Unwarranted voter purges under the guise of updating voter registries, have silenced the voices of millions. These sinister practices have undermined our democracy. We can and must repair this harm through the passage of the For The People Act.
Our organization was founded by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe whose commitment to democratic participation in the workplace and beyond and their collective activism gave birth to the modern labor movement. We draw upon their fierce activist legacy today as we stand with our fellow members in the Declaration for American Democracy to ensure our government is truly of, by, and for the people.
Sr. Quincy Howard, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of voters, election officials, poll workers, and civic volunteers, the 2020 election was an unrivaled success with historic turn-out, even in the midst of a deadly pandemic. But the process itself did not reflect a faithful democracy. Inaction by gerrymandered state legislatures and the US Senate meant that voters had to choose between their health and their vote. Dark money and special interest donations poured in to influence voters, doubling the record levels seen in 2016. Voter suppression tactics were seen at the highest levels when the President himself tried to undermine faith in our democratic systems. Despite all the barriers, voters proved that our democracy can still deliver. We cannot take that for granted in the next election—Pres. Biden must prioritize the For the People Act early in the 117th Congress just as Speaker Pelosi has committed to do. These democracy reforms must lay the critical foundation for rebuilding our nation. Restoring trust in a government that is accountable to the people is the first step towards healing our nation.”
What would the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act achieve?
The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act is a bold and transformative legislative package that would create national standards to protect our freedom to vote, get big money out of politics, combat partisan election subversion, and guarantee that congressional districts are drawn to give fair representation for all.
Together we can realize a democracy that represents, reflects, and responds to all of us.
Protects Our Freedom to Vote
- Automatic Voter Registration and Online Voter Registration: Enacts an automatic voter registration system for each state through the state’s motor vehicle agency and ensures voters in all states have access to online voter registration.
- Election Day Holiday: Makes Election Day a public holiday.
- Uniform Early Voting: Ensures voters have access to at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, including two weekends, while accommodating small election jurisdictions and vote-by-mail jurisdictions.
- Same Day Voter Registration: Ensures every state offers same day registration at a limited number of locations for the 2022 elections and at all polling locations by 2024, allowing election officials, especially in rural areas, time to implement the new requirements.
- Federal Minimum Standards on Vote by Mail and Drop Boxes: Ensures all voters can request a mail-in ballot, improves the delivery of election mail, and puts in place minimum standards to ensure drop boxes are available and accessible to all voters.
- Strengthens Voter List Maintenance Standards: Requires that the removal of voters from the rolls is done on the basis of reliable and objective evidence and prohibits the use of returned mail sent by third parties to remove voters.
- Counting of Provisional Ballots: Requires provisional ballots to count for all eligible races within a county, regardless of the precinct they were cast in.
- Standards for Voter Identification: Promotes voter confidence and access by requiring a uniform national standard for states that requires identification for in-person voting, and allowing voters to present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form.
- Voting Rights Restoration for Returning Citizens: Restores the right to vote in federal elections for people who have served their time for felony convictions after they are released from prison.
- Expanded Voting Access Protections for the Disabled, Native Americans, Military, Overseas Voters, and Underserved Communities: Includes targeted protections to promote accessible voting to communities facing unique challenges.
Ensures Fair Representation in Government
- Bans Partisan Gerrymandering: Prevents states from adopting congressional maps that unduly favor a political party. Maps will be measured against concrete numerical thresholds for each state, created by political scientists using quantitative metrics of partisan fairness. Courts will also be able to look broadly at the maps and mapmakers’ intent to determine whether they are unduly favoring a political party.
- Strengthens Protections for Communities of Color: By bolstering Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring districts be drawn to represent communities of interest, including communities that share racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic backgrounds.
- Requires States to Adopt Transparent and Fair Processes for Maps: Allows states to enact redistricting plans using their legislature, a commission, or any other entity — provided they hold public hearings, accept public input, adhere to transparency requirements, and explain how final plans adhere to the Voting Rights Act and the ban on partisan gerrymandering.
- Takes Effect Immediately and Applies to All 2022 Maps: Prevents any unfair maps ahead of the 2022 elections, and courts may not allow an illegal map to be used simply because an election is imminent. Any resident may sue their state in federal court for violating the redistricting provisions, and if the court finds the law has been violated, it may either draw a new map or require the state to redraw its map.
Reduces the Influence of Big Money in Politics
- Combatting Secret Money and Election Interference (DISCLOSE Act and Honest Ads Act): Requires super PACs, 501(c)(4) groups, and other organizations spending money in elections to disclose donors and shuts down the use of transfers between organizations to cloak the identity of contributors. Ensures that political ads sold online have the same transparency and disclosure requirements as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.
- State Election Assistance & Innovation Fund: Establishes a self-sustaining fund to finance critical investments in state-led innovations for our democracy and election infrastructure. The fund is financed through an additional assessment paid on federal fines, penalties, and settlements for certain tax crimes and corporate malfeasance. States would be allotted an annual distribution for eligible democracy and election-related investments. States could select to access their full distribution or a partial distribution, or roll over their distribution for future use.
- Nonpartisan Oversight of Federal Election Law: Improves the ability of the Federal Election Commission to carry out oversight and enforcement responsibilities.
- Stopping Illicit Super PAC Coordination: Creates “coordinated spender” category to ensure single-candidate super PACs do not operate as arms of campaigns.
Combats Partisan Election Subversion
- Preventing State Election Subversion: Establishes federal protections to insulate nonpartisan state and local officials who administer federal elections from undue partisan interference or control.
- Protection of Election Records, Election Infrastructure, and Ballot Tabulation: Strengthens protections for federal election records and election infrastructure in order to protect the integrity and security of ballots and voting systems.
- Voter-Verified Paper Ballots, Reliable Audits, and Voting System Upgrades: Requires states to use voting systems that use paper ballots that can be verified by voters and to implement reliable post-election audits. Also provides grants for states to purchase new and more secure voting systems and make cybersecurity improvements.
- Non-Partisan Election Official Recruitment and Training: Tasks the Election Assistance Commission with developing model training programs to recruit a new generation of election workers and provides dedicated grants for training and recruitment.
- Comprehensive Voting System Security Protections: Puts in place election vendor cybersecurity standards, including standards for manufacturing and assembling voting machines, among other key security measures.
- Establishing Duty to Report Foreign Election Interference: Creates a reporting requirement for federal campaigns to disclose certain foreign contacts.
What is the Declaration for American Democracy?
A Coalition of 240+ Member Organizations
The Declaration for American Democracy is an anti-oppression coalition working together to make the promise of democracy real for all of us.
We believe our democratic systems, institutions, and leaders must reflect, represent, and respect the diverse, multicultural nation that we are and have always been. For democracy to work for all of us, it must include all of us and address the deep systemic, institutional challenges that continue to block meaningful progress to this day. As America’s diversity continues to grow, so must our democracy.
Today our democracy faces crises on multiple fronts -- compounded by a deeply problematic history that has held us back from achieving an inclusive and equitable multiracial nation since our founding. Powerful corporations and wealthy special interests use their money and influence to shape public policy priorities. Extremist politicians are putting up deliberate barriers to block access to the ballot box and silence the voices of Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI, low-income, LGBTQIA, disability, and other marginalized communities. State legislatures are manipulating Congressional maps to allow politicians to pick their voters and hoard power for their political parties. And our government has failed to respond after four years of a corrupt administration and Supreme Court decisions gutting voting rights protections and anti-corruption laws.
Working together, we are committed to passing national standards, including the Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and DC Statehood, to transform our political system and move our country closer to realizing the true promise of democracy. However, we will not be satisfied with any single reform and will continue to press for the structural changes necessary to rebalance power for the people and undo the historic harms that have barred communities that have been marginalized and denied political power since the founding of the United States.
We believe people of color, young people, people with disabilities, language minorities, and other historically disenfranchised communities should have equal access to the ballot and be equitably represented in government. We believe everyday people should have a stronger voice in elections than wealthy donors and special interests. And we believe our government should be transparent and accountable to the people.
Together we must ensure the freedom to vote is a fundamental American right and that the people -- regardless of our color, our background, or our zip code - hold the power, not the wealthy and corporations.
Therefore, we, the Declaration for American Democracy, are committed to working together to achieve this vision and model our values in how we work together. As a coalition, we will invest in each other and treat each other with respect. We will acknowledge and learn from our past, including the legacy of racism and white supremacy in our movement and democratic institutions. In decision making we will center Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI, LGBTQIA, people with disabilities, language minorities, as well as other impacted communities. And we will invest in each other through professional development, collaborative grantmaking, and shared projects.