My Turn: Why New Hampshire needs the “For the People Act”

For the Monitor
Published: 4/30/2021 11:00:06 AM

Like many voters, I had heard about the over 800 page “For the People Act” (HR 1) and a companion voting bill, The John Lewis Act (HR 4). I knew that these bills had been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and that they will soon be considered by the U.S. Senate.

The sponsors of these bills believe that they are critically necessary to protect our most fundamental right as citizens: our right to vote. Right now, many states are working hard to pass both outright and subtle voting suppression laws.

Opponents of the For the People Act are spending millions of dollars to oppose this legislation. Given our recent safe and successful 2020 elections, it is reasonable to ask, what does this legislation do, and is it necessary? And why are millions of dollars being spent to defeat it?

To get some answers to these questions, I spent over four hours on April 20 attending, via Zoom, a bipartisan hearing on the For the People Act conducted in Washington, D.C. by the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Both Republicans and Democrats gave testimony and asked questions during this meeting. Our own Secretary of State William Gardner was one of several experts participating in the hearing. Secretary Gardner spoke in opposition to the For the People Act.

So, what are some of the key provisions of this bill and why does New Hampshire’s Secretary of State oppose it? I learned that the For the People Act proposes national measures to ensure fair elections by automating secure voter registration across the country and by removing barriers which some states have imposed on their voters.

The bill implements measures designed to sensibly reduce long lines and wait times endured by many voters in many states. The bill puts in place measures to end the domination of big money in our politics by requiring the identification of large political donors and strengthening the oversight of the Federal Election Commission so that it can effectively enforce secure election laws already on the books.

This law overhauls the Office of Government Ethics by closing loopholes that have allowed lobbyists and foreign agents to interfere with our elections. The bill also includes measures to protect against gerrymandering and to ensure fair and transparent redistricting.

I have learned that the reason that this bill is over 800 pages long is because it addresses a wide variety of similar, long-neglected critical issues. (A short, useful summary of the bill can be found on the website of Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes.)

In a recent statement, our Secretary of State said that he opposes the For the People Act because he believes that it threatens New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary. HR 1 does not threaten our state’s primary. HR 1 would mandate no-excuse absentee voting in every state including New Hampshire.

However, as Mr. Gardner has noted, again and again, New Hampshire has long been a national leader in voter turnout without no-excuse absentee voting. This is true. However, the 2020 election demonstrated that even greater turnout was fueled by Gov. Chris Sununu’s emergency, pandemic-inspired absentee voting order, which was put in place to protect voters’ health. To everyone’s relief and delight, not only was voter health protected, but voter participation increased.

At the hearing in Washington, D.C., Secretary Gardner noted that our state operates according to voting procedures described and mandated by our state’s constitution which was written five years before our United States Constitution when our country was a largely agrarian nation. Today we no longer have hitching posts for horses. We have parking places for cars. Over time many things change, often for the better.

Our 2020 election, one of the safest and most secure in our state and nation’s history, demonstrated that no-excuse absentee voting works and works well. Why not embrace that healthy change, which is one of the proposals put forth by the For the People Act? It was shown to be successful in protecting the integrity of our elections and in increasing voter participation.

A key reason for high voter participation in New Hampshire, according to Mr. Gardner, is voters’ confidence in the integrity of our elections. Gov. Sununu and Secretary of State Gardner, again and again, have congratulated New Hampshire on the integrity and high turnout of our 2020 elections.

Well, if our 2020 elections were indeed the most secure and successful in our state and nation’s history, why have Mr. Gardner and Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan repeatedly spoken against the For the People Act and in support of bills making voting more challenging for certain voters like college students?

The fact is that Mr. Gardner, Mr. Scanlan and many NH Republican representatives and senators have been complicit in reducing trust in what was demonstrably a secure and successful 2020 election. Polling shows that most U.S. voters support the For the People Act.

In fact, in a leaked phone call, conservative researcher Kyle McKenzie admitted that his own polling “shows that no message (Republicans) can devise effectively counters the argument that billionaires should be prevented from buying elections (“Inside the Koch-Backed Effort to Block the Largest Election-Reform Bill in Half a Century,” The New Yorker, March 29).

The For the People Act addresses serious, long-standing problems. Given what I have learned, I believe that our secretary of state needs to embrace the critical need for the For the People Act, which would implement long-overdue measures to truly protect the integrity and fairness of our elections nationwide.

The survival of our democracy requires the protections that the For the People Act provides. Without truly honest and fair elections, democracies, including ours, die.

(Janet Ward lives in Contoocook.)

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