Op-Ed - Restoring faith in our government

When I travel across South Florida, I listen to people’s concerns: quality health care isn’t affordable; student debt is crushing our economy; polluters can operate unchecked even when individuals are taking steps to reduce their own carbon footprint. South Floridians have been feeling that Washington isn’t responsive to their needs. I heard it over and over: Washington is broken. Well, Washington is broken because special interests and their dark money can buy influence, while working families are shut out of the process, even though they’re playing by the rules.

A recent poll showed that seventy-five percent of Americans have little to no confidence in elected officials to act in the best interest of the public. People don’t feel that their government represents them. With my constituents’ concerns in the front of my mind, taking on the special interests was one of the first issues we tackled. Last week’s vote for the For The People Act was a vote against corruption. It was a vote to strengthen our democracy and restore people’s trust in their government.

I’m a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and I’m proud the very first hearing we held focused on how the For The People Act would strengthen voting rights.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states with a history of suppressing voting rights no longer had to get changes to their voting laws approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. In the first election cycle after this decision, sixteen million voters were removed from voter rolls across the country. That’s a thirty-three percent increase over the previous election cycle. States that used to need Justice Department approval removed voters at a significantly higher rate than states that didn’t need such approval. Several counties in Florida were previously subject to those rules.

Ensuring every citizen has their constitutional right to vote couldn’t be more important, so I introduced a bill to prevent voter roll purges through a tactic known as “voter caging.” Simply put, voter caging is sending mail to a targeted neighborhood and, if a voter’s mail is returned as “undeliverable,” that voter is removed from the rolls. Here are just a few of examples why someone might be a victim of voter caging: mail sent to you could have been delivered to the wrong address; mail sent to you was lost; or maybe you’re temporarily out of town. My bill that passed the House as part of the For The People Act would outlaw that voter suppression tactic.

The For The People Act will strengthen access to the ballot box. It creates automatic voter registration, ensures individuals who have served their felony sentences have their voting rights restored, expands early voting, ends voter purging, and modernizes the U.S. voting system. Our democracy is strongest when people trust that their voice is heard at the ballot box. To hinder a person’s right to vote is a step towards weakening people’s faith in their government, but it’s not enough to make sure everyone’s right to vote is protected. The American people need to feel that public servants are serving them, not corporations and the ultra-wealthy. That’s why the For The People Act revamps the Office of Government Ethics to ensure strong enforcement of federal ethics laws. It closes registration loopholes for lobbyists and former members of Congress. Government officials can’t be allowed to profit from their public service, so this bill also cracks down on the revolving door in Washington by stopping private companies from creating and influencing the laws that will apply to them.

Elected officials should be held to the highest of standards – especially the President of the United States. In the face of the least transparent Administration in modern history, the For The People Act requires Presidents and Vice Presidents to get rid of their business dealings – like Trump’s ownership of Mar-a-Lago – and it forces them to release their tax returns to protect the Executive Branch against conflicts of interest. Hardworking families know the system should not be set up to work only for the wealthiest Americans and the special interest that control those in elected office.

My vote for the For The People Act takes aim at the special interests that the Trump Administration has allowed to run wild. By ensuring people’s right to vote and cleaning up the culture of corruption, our government will better represent working families. A strong and healthy democracy is not a partisan issue. The For the People Act must be signed into law, so Floridians and all Americans can know their government will work for them.

U.S. Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) represents the FL-26.