Guest Commentary

Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley: Help pass the For the People Act

Evelyn Maddox, state president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri
Evelyn Maddox, state president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri

In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the For the People Act of 2019. This legislation would reform three areas that are vitally important to sustaining our democracy: voting, campaign finance and ethics. But the Senate hasn’t yet held a hearing on it — so it will take grassroots advocacy by voters to get these election reforms heard there. And Missourians need action from our senators.

The right to vote is a critical principle of our democracy, and accessibility to voting is just as critical. The For the People Act would restore important provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which had ensured minority voting rights until the 2013 Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision. The act would also:

▪  Make voter registration and voting easier with automatic registration and early voting systems.

▪  Fund modernization of states’ election methods and election security.

▪  Prevent partisan gerrymandering when states draw legislative districts.

▪  Regulate campaign finance, including banning foreign donations and demanding transparency in all types of campaign spending.

▪  Define ethical standards for government service and lobbying.

According to a Northern Illinois University study released last year, Missouri ranks 29th in the nation when it comes to how easy it is for voters to cast a ballot. Single-day elections and stringent absentee balloting requirements are major factors.

Missouri state Rep. Peter Merideth introduced House Bill 992 to allow no-excuse absentee ballots and early voting, but the General Assembly declined to hold a hearing on it. The For the People Act would require Missouri and all other states to institute a 15-day early voting period, automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration for federal elections.

Early voting would help voters whose work schedules, caregiving concerns or transportation difficulties make it hard to vote between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. at polling places near their homes. Currently, staffing numerous voting sites, along with a crush of same-day election processing, is difficult for local election authorities. It also makes our state more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Some states have discouraged minority voters by moving and closing poll sites. Others have purged legally-registered voters by the thousands. Partisan gerrymandering is routinely used to predetermine election outcomes in congressional districts. Unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud have been unjustly alleged to support what the League of Women Voters considers voter suppression in many parts of the country.

Our state has had its share of voting issues. Last fall, a judge ruled that Missouri must take immediate steps to prevent residents from being denied their right to vote as a result of the state’s failure to comply fully with the National Voter Registration Act. Cole County Judge Richard Callahan also ruled that state officials could no longer spread materials that say a state-issued photo ID card is required to vote. His ruling additionally said that state authorities can no longer require people with other acceptable forms of identification to sign a sworn statement before voting.

Our nation is plagued with big money controlling campaigns and election outcomes. Unethical public servants and conflicts of interest threaten the good of the public. The For the People Act addresses all these conditions that endanger our democracy.

The League of Women Voters has actively defended democracy by educating and empowering voters on a nonpartisan basis for 100 years. We call upon all Missouri voters to ask Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley to request a Senate hearing on the For the People Act. At the very least, the Senate should hold a hearing to consider these election reforms. Every U.S. citizen deserves access to voting in fair and secure elections.

Evelyn Maddox is state president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri.