In Setback for Democracy, Senate Blocks For the People Act

Statement by Michael Latner, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jun 22, 2021

WASHINGTON (June 22, 2021)—Today, the For the People Act, a package of reforms aimed at increasing political participation and ensuring fair elections, was blocked in the U.S. Senate thanks to a filibuster by all of the Senate’s Republican members. It’s a deeply troubling outcome and a sign of the challenges ahead to build a healthier democracy, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Michael Latner, senior fellow with the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS and professor of political science at California Polytechnic University.

“Today’s vote in the U.S. Senate is beyond disappointing. In a country premised on the idea of the consent of the governed, it shouldn’t be hard to pass a bill ensuring everyone can participate on the political process. Unfortunately, supporters of free and fair elections lost, not because their ideas lack merit, but because their opponents can act without fear of electoral consequences.

“The provisions of the For the People Act would make elections in this country more representative and more meaningful, enabling often excluded voices to get a fair say in the process of choosing leaders and making policy. And this bill is a needed counterbalance to widespread state-level efforts to subvert elections through voter roll purges, restrictive requirements, partisan gerrymandering, unaccountable campaign spending and misinformation. It’s embarrassing that this bill can’t even get a vote on the Senate floor. And one of the clearest signs that our democracy is failing its constituents is that these popular reforms are being blocked by a party-line filibuster.

“The biggest impediment to true democracy in this country is the continued influence of powerful ideological and industry interests who benefit from the status quo. The communities who are most excluded from the political process—including Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities—are the same ones who face the most harm from environmental pollution, discrimination, and inadequate resources. Barriers to voting mean that these communities can’t hold their government accountable.

“While today’s vote is a disappointing setback, the fight for a healthy democracy must continue. The defenders of fair elections will continue to use all the levers at their disposal to make sure that everyone can participate and know their vote matters.”

Dr. Latner is the co-author of Gerrymandering the States: Race, Partisanship and the Transformation of American Federalism (Cambridge University Press, 2021), and Gerrymandering in America: The House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and the Future of Popular Sovereignty (Cambridge University Press, 2016). With the Union of Concerned Scientists, Dr. Latner authored Our Unhealthy Democracy (2019) and co-authored Protecting Public Health in the 2020 Elections (2020).