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Dispatches on the For The People Act (Edition #4)
Welcome to the Equal Citizens H.R. 1 Substack!
We are your one-stop-shop for all things related to the For The People Act (H.R. 1). We hope that you will join us in this critical fight for the future of our democracy. Make sure to subscribe here if you haven’t already, and share the word about this substack.
This week the two of us, Kevin Rissmiller and Kate Travis, will focus on the Redistricting Reform Act of 2021, a provision within H.R. 1 that will greatly curtail the ability of states to gerrymander Congressional districts. We will also share the week’s best press hits about the bill, shout out a special H.R. 1 sponsor, and round up the shareable H.R. 1-themed social posts.
BUT FIRST, SOME NEWS: After years of advocacy, and incredible recent Congressional testimony from Stacey Abrams, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, and Professor Guy Uriel-Charles, H.R. 1 has PASSED THE HOUSE! The vote was 220-210, with all but one Democrat voting for the bill. This is obviously huge news, and the first major step towards enacting the For The People Act.
If that wasn’t enough good news, after last night’s victory, President Biden released a statement reiterating his desire to sign the bill. This statement confirms what we’ve long known: the fate of the For the People Act will come down to the Senate.
Another great update: The House launched a website for the For The People Act. You can use this resource to track the bill’s progress, separate myth from fact, and hear from supporters. Check it out here.
Finally, this week on the Equal Citizens’ podcast, Another Way, Lawrence Lessig spoke to Bill Kristol, longtime conservative pundit, about democracy reform and the fate of the Republican Party. Listen here.
Provision of the Week: Redistricting Reform Act of 2021 (Section A, Title 2, Subtitle E)
What is it?
The Redistricting Reform Act of 2021 is a key provision of the For The People Act. It is designed to put a stop to discriminatory and hyper-partisan Congressional gerrymandering, the process in which state legislators draw Congressional district lines to give their party an unfair advantage (sometimes even guaranteeing the party’s victory).
Instead of giving state politicians the power to redraw the Congressional district maps, this section of the bill requires states to create independent redistricting commissions composed of an equal number of Independents, Republicans, and Democrats (members must be geographically and demographically representative, too). These commissions would be in charge of drawing new Congressional district lines and each commission would operate under voting rules that prevent one political party from taking all the power.
Importantly, no one with conflicts of interest would be able to serve on one of these commissions. This means candidates for public office and their immediate families, big political donors, and political party officials cannot be selected.
Beyond creating independent commissions, the Redistricting Reform Act of 2021 also establishes certain requirements for the redistricting process. It prohibits maps from serving one political party over another, and requires districts to “respect communities of interest,” meaning they cannot restrict the political power of racial, ethnic, geographic, tribal, or cultural groups.
And not only would the redistricting process be required to be fair and impartial, it would additionally be held to transparency standards. This means that when the commissions are drawing the maps, they would have to hold multiple public hearings, provide the public with information about the map drawing process, and give ample opportunity for the public to submit comments.
(Note: For constitutional reasons, H.R. 1 would not affect the redistricting process for state legislative districts.)
Why does it matter?
Gerrymandering is currently one of the biggest problems in our democracy and eliminates accountability for our representatives. After all, if members of Congress have such rigged districts that they cannot lose, they have no incentive to fight for the interests of their constituents, and their constituents have no easy way of voting them out of office.
Allowing state legislatures to draw Congressional districts creates an incentive for legislators to draw maps that benefit their own political party, something that happened during the last redistricting cycle and that continues to distort Congressional elections today in places like Wisconsin. Independent redistricting commissions would remove politicians’ self-interest from the redistricting process, and foster Congressional maps that actually represent and reflect the people.
In the News:
The New York Times reports on the For the People Act passing the House of Representatives last night! You can use this article to spread the word about last night’s major victory.
HuffPost explains how H.R. 1 is the solution to the Republican wave of voter restriction efforts at the state level. In a detailed article, Paul Blumenthal describes how Trump’s lies have led to a massive campaign by state Republicans across the country to limit who can vote and how they can vote. Blumenthal argues that the For the People Act is the solution to combat these antidemocratic efforts.
Elizabeth Hira of the The Brennan Center calls the For the People Act “America’s Next Great Civil Rights Bill.” In this piece, Hira chronicles how the major provisions of H.R. 1 will empower marginalized groups to participate in the American political system.
Senator Merkley explains why it is so critical that we pass the For the People Act. Drawing attention to a poll showing broad support for H.R. 1 across the political spectrum, Merkley argues that this might be one of our final chances to save our democracy.
And now, a word from the architect:
The For The People Act would not be this close to passing without the strong support of key members of Congress. This week we will highlight the one and only Rep. John Sarbanes, the architect of H.R. 1.
“Swiftly passing H.R. 1 sends a strong signal to the American people about our unwavering and longstanding commitment to enact transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms.” - Rep. Sarbanes
“Our once-in-a-generation reform effort will end decades of dysfunction in Washington, return power to the people and build a more just, equitable and prosperous country for all Americans.” - Rep. Sarbanes
Thank you for all your work on this legislation, Representative Sarbanes. We all owe you our gratitude! You can read Representative Sarbanes’ press releases here. Check out the H.R. 1 section of his website here.
Additionally, Lawrence Lessig recently spoke with Rep. Sarbanes on the Equal Citizens’ podcast, Another Way, about the For the People Act.
Social Media Roundup:
Let’s be frank: there are A LOT of tweets, posts, and general conversation about the For The People Act. In this section, we give you an overview of the tweets and media you really need to see.
This week, in honor of the House passing H.R. 1, we will let some of the Representatives speak for themselves about why they voted to pass this amazing bill, and include a few additional celebratory tweets.
The Vice President lauds the For The People Act!
Ari Berman shares about H.R. 1 passing the House:
Bonus tweet: Senator Jeff Merkley fact checks Mike Pence’s dishonest H.R. 1 tweet:
How you can help:
H.R. 1 is the most important democracy reform bill in half a century, but to get it through the Senate, we need your help. That’s why we’ll end this newsletter every week with a few quick and easy ways to join the fight for H.R. 1. This week, you can:
Call your Senators at (202) 224-3121 and tell them why they should do everything in their power to pass the For The People Act (S. 1) in the Senate.
Share our newsletter, our podcast, the articles included above, and the resources on H.R. 1 below on social media and tell your friends why you support #ForThePeopleAct
If you have questions about H.R. 1 you want us to answer in our substack, tweet at us with #HR1Substack!
If, after reading our newsletter, you still want to know more about the For The People Act, Equal Citizens, or the two of us, you can find more information here!
Here are a few resources on the “For the People Act” if you have questions:
The Brennan Center for Justice created a wonderful guide to H.R. 1. Check it out here.
Here is the link to the House website on the For the People Act.
There is a lot of misinformation about H.R. 1, and the amount of misinformation will only grow as the fight heats up. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure everyone has all the facts on the bill - here is an article from Media Matters that can help you fact check.
More about Independent Redistricting Commissions:
Gerrymandering can be a complicated subject, so you can check out this awesome explanation by Vox of its history, how it works, and its effects here.
More about us:
Kate Travis is a fellow at Equal Citizens and a junior at Harvard studying History and Literature with a minor in Government. When she’s not fighting for democracy, you can find her running, playing the cello, and drinking copious amounts of coffee (maybe even all at once). Follow her on Twitter at @mkht930.
Kevin Rissmiller is a fellow at Equal Citizens and a Goodwin-Niering Scholar at Connecticut College majoring in Government and exploring sociology, economics, and applied statistics. In his free time, you will find him at Dunkins or (pre-pandemic) playing ultimate frisbee. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
If you want more updates on H.R. 1 from Kate and Kevin, then subscribe here!