Opinion: For the People Act fixes broken system
Recently, a federal court ruled that Michigan illegally drew partisan congressional, state senate, and state representative districts and must redraw them in time for the 2020 election.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the For the People Act, a groundbreaking democracy reform package which ensures every voter can cast a ballot free from barriers, curbs the culture of corruption in Washington, D.C. and ends the dominance of big money in politics. These reforms are critical in building a democracy that works for everyone, not just wealthy elites. I am proud Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan support its Senate companion bill. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must stop standing in the way and hold a vote.
The last decade shows that new state laws are imperative to protect our democracy. As a response to the Great Recession of 2009, conservative organizations and advocacy groups teamed up with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to introduce sweeping legislation that stripped the voices of citizens by removing democratically elected officials and replacing them with appointed overseers. This “Emergency Manager” law, approved by a gerrymandered state legislature, set off a chain of events leading to both the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States and Flint’s water crisis.
A non-partisan campaign helped successfully overturn this dictatorship bill at the ballot box in 2012. But lame-duck legislators overturned the will of the people and restored the bad law.
Flint’s water crisis remains unsolved, and the vacuum of leadership and lack of accountability for the public officials who caused this crisis has eroded Flint’s residents trust in their government.
The For the People Act will curb the big money politics that led to and continues to fuel Flint’s water crisis, putting our elections back in the hands of everyday citizens. The bill will multiply the power of small donors, bring dark money into the light, and strengthen oversight and accountability of public servants.
The bill also builds on decades of pioneers who spent their lives making it easier to vote. More than 40 years ago, Michigan’s first African-American elected to statewide office, Secretary of State Richard Austin, implemented the nation’s first “motor voter” law, allowing citizens to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license. Michigan wouldn’t see another reform like this until last year’s midterm elections, when a near super-majority of voters approved constitutional amendments to end gerrymandering, create an automatic voter registration system, allow same-day registration, and implement no-excuse absentee voting – reforms that are expected to empower 300,000 new voters in 2020.
The For the People Act heeds citizen-led movements in states like Michigan to forge a stronger democracy that makes sure every vote is heard, counted, and protected.
It’s time to eliminate barriers to the ballot box, enact tougher ethics standards to hold public officials accountable and end big money in politics. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should stop standing in the way of the For the People Act so we can fix our broken political system and create a democracy that works for everyone.
Brandon Jessup is executive director of Michigan Forward.