With broad vaccination efforts and the imminent passage of the president’s COVID-19 relief bill, the Biden administration is sailing toward a successful start. But President Biden’s first 100 days will be incomplete unless his party manages to pass H.R. 1, a sweeping pro-democracy bill that counts as one of the most important pieces of legislation to grace the congressional docket in years. The House has already passed this bill. The Senate must follow suit.
H.R.1 is a bill large enough to match the scale of the challenge it seeks to address. American democracy is in crisis after weathering a decade-long assault by Republicans bent on creating an unrepresentative, wholly right-wing government in this country. The bill addresses each of the trouble spots in American democratic erosion: voter registration, ballot access, money-in-politics, and, most importantly, gerrymandering. Left to fester, any of these problems would diminish the ability of the American people to govern themselves. Together, they could plunge us back into the semi-democratic darkness that prevailed prior to the voting-rights revolution of the 1960’s.
On a broader level, H.R. 1 seeks to regularize voting across the country. American federalism, often euphemized as “states’ rights,” has for hundreds of years allowed anti-democratic forces to limit representative government in their jurisdictions. If passed and implemented, H.R. 1 would clip the wings of voter-suppressors and election-riggers in state after state. This would be particularly important in Southern states and northern red states with Southernized right-wing legislatures. We’d finally get a democracy that has meaning regardless of who is running one’s state government.
All of these concerns should transcend party politics. But in a country where race, politics, and democracy are inextricable, the partisan valence is clear. As their party’s appeal has shrunk, Republicans have increasingly determined to use voter suppression as their means of winning elections. GOP legislators have introduced suppression bills in almost every state. It is not crass partisan self-interest to combat these infringements on the sanctity of representative government. And it is not illegitimate for a party that tends to benefit from democracy to strengthen the people’s rule.
States’ rights and white propertied hegemony have always been an affront to the nation’s best ideals. In 2021, we have reached another watershed at which pro-democracy Americans have an opportunity–and a duty–to restore the system that embodies this country’s founding promise. The stakes of H.R. 1 are immense. The Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate must make it its highest priority to pass this crucial bill.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.