The Clock Is Ticking to Protect Our Democracy
By Lisa Gilbert
Our democracy needs immediate attention.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that it will deliver data to the states needed to begin redistricting by Sept. 30, following a series of delays related to the pandemic.
While states will be able to begin some elements of the redistricting process, they need this population and demographic data to help construct legislative boundaries for congressional and statehouse districts. And with less time than usual to complete the process, many states will be under pressure to finish redistricting quickly to accommodate candidate filing deadlines, which fall in the opening months of 2022.
In this round of redistricting, which occurs every 10 years, Republicans will have the power to gerrymander the lines for at least 180 seats in the 435-seat U.S. House of Representatives. Partisan and biased gerrymandering undermines the legitimacy of and trust in our system of government. Our democracy is broken when politicians get to pick their voters, instead of the other way around.
The For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) — which, among its many reforms, would empower small donors to participate in elections, shine a light on secret political spending, and automatically register voters — would also ban racial and partisan gerrymandering by both parties. And with at least 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states now threatening our democracy (including bills intended to further entrench gerrymandering), the need to unrig the process has never been more urgent.
If the For the People Act is signed into law while state redistricting processes are still underway, there are triggers in the law that could kick the map-drawing process for some states to the courts and protect the integrity of the process. But to definitively repair the system, it would be far better to simply pass the law sooner.
While the bill’s anti-corruption, money-in-politics, and election reforms will still be critical for creating a democracy we can all believe in no matter when it passes, the sooner the For the People Act is signed into law, the better. Passing it quickly will ensure that the law’s gerrymandering prohibitions are applied quickly.
House Democrats passed the For the People as H.R.1 in March, but for it to become law, it still needs to pass in the U.S. Senate, where the antiquated filibuster rule stands in the way. It has also been designated S.1 in the Senate to show the extreme importance of getting it done, and the timeline should reflect that label.
Senate Democrats should abolish the filibuster outright, since it is an obstacle to action. It is racist, unconstitutional, anti-democratic, and has turned the Senate from the cooling saucer the Founders intended into a deep freezer — where even the most popular legislation with bipartisan support among the voters stands no chance of passing.
While there are many important legislative priorities the majority would like to, and should, address — from infrastructure to climate to guns to immigration — the chances of advancing these policies will increase if we can first fix gerrymandering, improve voting access, tamp down on secret money corruption, and restore trust in our government.
If leaders in Washington are certain they will be accountable to the voters in future elections and won’t be allowed to use the same old dirty tricks they’ve relied upon in the past to stay in power, they’re more likely to pass popular, urgently needed legislation.
Ending the filibuster to pass the For the People Act, followed swiftly by the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, will stop the next round of biased gerrymandering in the nick of time –while improving voting accessibility, security, and registration, strengthening government ethics, and stopping billionaires from buying our elections.
The sooner we get it done, the better.