For The People

Why is this important? First, I’ll tell you a story. You’ll be hearing a lot about H.R. 1 and Senate 1 over the next few months. Here’s my analysis.

Right out of college I went to work for the State Assembly Speaker’s Office. I was first an assistant, then moved right on to my own committee as a legislative analyst. I was given what I called the “grab bag” committee, a huge task, 750 bills all by myself with no assistance and no computer or internet. Grab bag because whenever someone had something that didn’t fit anywhere else, it came to me. Thus legislative ethics (talk to me about that being an oxymoron later), redistricting, Native American land claims, cable television franchising, ADA, casino gaming, fire and building codes, human and civil rights, privacy, land sales, and lots of other stuff.

Also involved were two very important things, oversight of the Open Meetings Law and Freedom of Information Act. For anyone who’s heard of the bad old days of smoke-filled back rooms and politicians making secret deals, both these laws tackled the issues deftly. You have to publicly schedule a meeting with time and date and invite public attendance, and set an agenda so that people know what the government entity is going to be voting on. And, everything is available to members of the public.

The theory, a good one, is that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Let voters know what you’re doing, when and make it available for everyone to read and decide whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing town councils, legislatures, governors are voting on.

But this is high school civics. Let’s start at the very beginning with our ABC’s. I’m a citizen in good standing (that means I’m not in jail serving a felony sentence and I’m eighteen years of age or older) so I can vote. The Voting Rights Act and the courts since 1965 have made it easier for all American citizens to vote. So I can easily register to vote, vote in person or by mail, and my vote will be properly counted and certified. Sounds easy, right? I will opine and add another wish I have for all voters: that they should know what huge donors are backing each candidate.

Now you’ve a bunch of states who have acted badly in the past, making it difficult for mainly people of color to vote. Now the Supreme Court has said that’s OK, until Congress changes the law. This past year, COVID messed everything up and with hospitalizations and deaths rising, it became a challenge to vote so some states tried to make it easier through extended early voting and addition of drop boxes.

Then President Trump lost the election. Now 43 states are trying to make it more difficult, once again primarily for Black and brown voters, but for disabled and the elderly as well, to vote. The only reason my state isn’t on the bandwagon is that it’s already difficult to vote here since 2016 with requiring photo ID and eliminating polling places in mainly neighborhoods that vote heavily for Democrats.

For The People Act will make basic rules for states to follow in conducting elections. It is my fervent hope that they will also fund and provide technical support for states and localities for upgrading equipment, so that a poor staffer isn’t stuck in a broom closet in a town hall with a 286 computer trying to input voter information.

It also requires that sunlight shine on what is called “dark money” which has proliferated of late because of new laws and loopholes. Basically, it says that everyone who is eligible to vote should be able to do so with a minimum of fuss; their votes should be counted correctly and fairly; and that voters should know who is funding candidates.

It’s OK to send $20 to the candidate of your choice. That is to be encouraged. What this bill does is make it more difficult for billionaires to buy elections secretly. Statehouses used to be part-time and include farmers, shop owners and school teachers. Now it’s all lawyers and rich folks who want power or something to do with their time.

Since Election Day (November 3, 2020) and especially the Capitol insurrection (January 6, 2021) our nation’s democracy has been severely threatened. If the majority of states pass laws like Georgia’s voter suppression act we won’t have time to quibble about Open Meetings or Freedom of Information statutes because there won’t be any.

Please look into the For The People Act on your own. There are primers online, you don’t have to read the entire thing. Just look for a balanced analysis by a non-partisan source. I’m partisan, vote Democrat, Republican or Independent depending on the candidate but I am 100% for democracy and our Constitution and will work hard to make sure we don’t throw away our Republic.

This past six months a number of lawsuits in my state threatened to throw out my vote and our state legislature and one US Senator toyed with throwing out our entire state’s votes just because they didn’t like who won the presidential election. Sorry to say this but that really ticked me off. No-one tosses my vote and gets away with it. To readers who want to retain a government of, by and for the people, I salute you. Cheers! Dee


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