It is my day off and I am curious. About what? About H.R.-1, the For the People Act of 2021. This is a Democratically sponsored bill in the House of Representatives that addresses voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and more. It is discussed, pro and con, in the news, by politically oriented talk shows, former presidents, current presidents, and places in between. So, I spent part of the day being curious about the details and issues attending the topic at hand.
I wondered if there is a moral obligation to cast a vote. Of course, there are lots of voting guides for Catholics, discussions about the forming of a moral conscience, but I did not easily find anything on the basic moral obligation to participate in the civic function of voting. But if one is curious enough…
- More than 60 years ago, on March 16, 1946, Pope Pius XII said in his “Discourse to Parish Priests” that the “The exercise of the right to vote is an act of grave moral responsibility, at least with respect to the electing of those who are called to give to a country its constitution and its laws… it is a strict obligation for all those who have the right to vote, men and women, to take part in the elections. Whoever abstains from doing so, in particular by indolence or weakness, commits a sin grave in itself, a mortal fault.”
- All citizens ought to be aware of their right and duty to promote the common good by casting their votes (Gaudium et Spes, “The Church in the Modern World”, Vatican II, 1965, §75)
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church (§2240) says “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country…”
Since it is a moral obligation for Catholic to vote, it seems clear that we Catholic should be interested in H.R.-1 (the 2021 edition; there have been others)
H.R.-1, “For the People Act of 2021” addresses voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government.
- Specifically, the bill expands voter registration (e.g., automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (e.g., vote-by-mail and early voting). It also limits removing voters from voter rolls.
- The bill requires states to establish independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting.
- Additionally, the bill sets forth provisions related to election security, including sharing intelligence information with state election officials, supporting states in securing their election systems, developing a national strategy to protect U.S. democratic institutions, establishing in the legislative branch the National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions, and other provisions to improve the cybersecurity of election systems.
- Further, the bill addresses campaign finance, including by expanding the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals, requiring additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending, requiring additional disclaimers regarding certain political advertising, and establishing an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices.
- The bill addresses ethics in all three branches of government, including by requiring a code of conduct for Supreme Court Justices, prohibiting Members of the House from serving on the board of a for-profit entity, and establishing additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for federal employees and the White House.
- The bill requires the President, the Vice President, and certain candidates for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns.
That is a high-level summary. The Brennan Center provides more details (published January 20, 2021) in their annotated guide on HR-1. If you would like to know more about the Brennan Center for Justice, you can view a YouTube video about them.
H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021 (the bill will be S. 1 in the Senate), was introduced in the House of Representatives on January 4, 2021. A previous version of the bill passed the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress on March 8, 2019, by a vote of 234 to 193 (the Senate companion, S. 949, was cosponsored by all 45 Senate Democrats and both Independents). Across 10 titles, this historic legislation would make it easier to vote in federal elections, end congressional gerrymandering, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, increase safeguards against foreign interference, strengthen government ethics rules, and more. Most of these reforms would be implemented for the November 2022 general election, with the exception of some redistricting and public financing changes that would go into effect later. This bulleted list that follow provides details about each title and subtitle of the bill, as well as information about related legislation and pertinent Brennan Center research on the issues that the bill seeks to address.
- Title I: Modernizing Voter Registration, Restoring Voting Rights, Protecting the Ballot
- Title II: Restoring the Voting Rights Act, DC and Territorial Voting Rights, Ending Gerrymandering
- Title III: Election Security
- Title IV: Campaign Transparency, Countering Foreign Interference
- Title V: Empowering Small Donors and Related Reforms
- Title VI: Enforcing Campaign Finance Laws, Strengthening Campaign Contribution Limits
- Title VII: Supreme Court Ethics Reform, Expanding Lobbyist Disclosure, FARA Reform, Recusal of Presidential Appointees
- Title VIII: Executive Branch Ethics Reforms
- Title IX: Congressional Ethics Reforms
- Title X: Disclosure of Presidential Tax Returns
I will leave it to your curiosity as to the implications of the reforms. In an additional 20 minutes of reading online, it is clear that advocates for and against H.R.-1, have overstated and hardened positions. Without significant change, HR-1 will likely pass the House and be filibustered in the Senate. So the bill might be an exercise in governance without the conclusion of a vote – even though 68% of the likely Republican voters want and support “voting reform” – not necessarily H.R.-1, but some reform.
I hope you are curious.