The U.S. House of Representatives passed sweeping voting reform legislation last month with the “For the People Act,” which would institute voting reforms at the federal level.
If the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, it would require states to implement automatic voter registration, federal workers to receive the day off on election days and presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns, among other reforms. Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-RI, added an amendment to the bill called the DISCLOSE Act, which would increase transparency within the federal election campaign donation process by requiring elected officials to publicize donor information.
This is not the first time Cicilline has made efforts to change the influence of money in politics. The representative established the city of Providence’s first ethics code and made history by foregoing campaign contributions from city employees. He also wrote legislation to enact automatic voter registration in the previous Congress, though it did not pass.
While the bill would bring changes to many states across the country, Rhode Island has already instituted many of the reforms central to the legislation, said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island. For example, Rhode Island has already approved automatic voter registration and passed laws requiring state officials to file independent financial disclosure forms. State legislators and the Secretary of State have also put forward a litany of reforms at the state level to increase voter turnout and candidate accessibility, including proposals to institute early voting, The Herald previously reported.
But on the national stage, the ambitious bill is unlikely to garner enough support to become law in the current political climate. Despite strong and unified Democratic support for the legislation, President Donald Trump has already promised to veto the bill if it were to pass the Senate. The White House stated that the bill “chills free speech by creating requirements that would limit the ability of Americans to participate in advocacy without undue compliance costs and without fear of public reprisals.”
But the bill is unlikely to even reach the Senate floor. “It has zero prospects of moving forward in any way in the Senate,” said Richard Arenberg, senior fellow in international and public affairs and visiting professor of the practice of political science. Arenberg cited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s, R-KY, staunch opposition to campaign finance reform and stressed that it is highly unlikely that the Republican majority will negotiate with Democrats to create a bipartisan bill.
“One of the difficulties historically with this sort of legislation is that both parties are very quick to analyze exactly how it affects their electoral prospects,” Arenberg said. Many of the reforms proposed in the bill would increase voter turnout, and Republicans tend to do worse in high-turnout elections, he added.
The act does serve a purpose even though it has little chance of passing, Marion said. “Now we have model legislation on a whole host of reforms that reformers on a state level can turn to.”