Protecting our Democracy in 2021:  H.R. 1 – For The People Act 

Susan Gobreski |

Participation is critical to representation.

The House of Representatives just passed H.R. 1, the “For the People Act,” which would dramatically improve the democratic process, protecting access to the vote, reducing the influence of special interests, updating ethics and transparency measures, improving election security, and more. A majority of Americans strongly support the bill.

Measures to restrict participation, limit access, and make voting harder are being introduced in 43 states, including here in Pennsylvania where bills are being introduced that would eliminate vote by mail and restrict access to voting in other ways as well.

H.R. 1 would create a foundation that would protect our democracy nationwide, stop rogue state legislatures from undermining elections, and secure our democracy.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where the partisan politics of the filibuster will be a factor. But if members of the Senate are willing to stand up for a free and fair democracy, the bill could get a vote without opponents being able to hide behind a filibuster.


Here is a summary of the provisions on H.R. 1, drawn in part from the bill’s sponsor Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland. 




  • Improve Access – H.R. 1 expands access to the ballot box by taking aim at institutional barriers to voting, including cumbersome voter registration systems and limited voting hours. H.R. 1 would create automatic voter registration across the country, ensure that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full voting rights restored, expand early voting and enhance absentee voting, simplify voting by mail, reduce long lines and wait times for voters, and modernize America’s voting system.
  • Promote Integrity – H.R. 1 commits Congress to build the record necessary to restore the Voting Rights Act, as embodied by the House-passed H.R. 4. It also commits Congress to deliver full, congressional voting rights and self-government for the residents of the District of Columbia, which only statehood can provide, prohibits voter roll purges like those seen in Ohio, Georgia, and elsewhere and ends partisan gerrymandering to prevent politicians from picking their voters.
  • Ensure Security – H.R. 1 ensures that American elections are decided by American voters, without interference, by enhancing federal support for voting system security, by requiring paper ballots and also by increasing oversight of election system vendors and by requiring the development of a national strategy to protect U.S. democratic institutions from foreign interference.


  • Guarantee Disclosure – H.R. 1 shines a light on dark money in politics by upgrading online political ad disclosure and requiring all organizations involved in political activity to disclose their large donors. H.R. 1 also closes a loophole that allows big-money contributors and special interests to hide the true funding source of their political spending.
  • Empower Citizens – H.R. 1 strengthens the political power of hardworking Americans by creating a multiple matching system for small donations. This innovative, 21st-century system of citizen-owned elections would break the stranglehold of special interests on Congress and lay the groundwork for an agenda that meets the needs of the American people. The voluntary multiple matching system would be completely paid for by a new surcharge on corporate law breakers and wealthy tax cheats. That way, the individuals and corporations who break the public trust—like Wells Fargo, which created fake bank accounts for unwitting customers; Volkswagen, which lied about harmful carbon emissions from its vehicles; Facebook, which violates Americans’ privacy; or Purdue Pharma, which fueled the opioid crisis—bear the cost of building a more just and equitable democracy. H.R. 1 also reaffirms Congress’s authority to regulate money in politics, pushing back on the Supreme Court’s wrong-headed Citizens United decision.
  • Strengthen Oversight – H.R. 1 ensures that there are “cops” on the campaign finance beat that will enforce the laws on the books. H.R. 1 tightens rules on super PACs and restructures the Federal Election Commission to break the gridlock and enhance its enforcement mechanisms. It also repeals Mitch McConnell’s riders which prevent government agencies from requiring commonsense disclosure of political spending.


  • Fortify Ethics Law – H.R. 1 breaks the influence economy in Washington and increases accountability by expanding conflict of interest law and divestment requirements, slowing the revolving door, preventing members of Congress from serving on corporate boards, and requiring presidents to disclose their tax returns.
  • Impose Greater Ethics Enforcement – H.R. 1 gives teeth to federal ethics oversight by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics, closing loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents, ensuring watchdogs have sufficient resources to enforce the law and creating a code of ethics for the Supreme Court.