Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The For the People Act gives more people voices, and Michigan shows why that works.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—In 2018, Michigan revolutionized voting rights.

Voters fought hard to take the power of redistricting away from politicians and give it to 13 everyday Michiganders. Those Michiganders will use data from the 2020 census to redesign the map that determines the elected official who represents residents of Kalamazoo, in Lansing and in Washington. 

That change is the result of ballot initiatives in 2018 that transformed Michigan voting rights. Now, Michigan’s successes could become America’s successes. 

The voting reforms at the national level presented in HR 1, the For the People Act, would effectively use Michigan’s citizen-led redistricting initiative as a model for other states to follow, with an equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents on a commission to redraw the voting maps. And one advocate for those reforms sees that as the starting point for more change. 

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“Watching the Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission come to life and take back power for just regular people in Michigan … It is inspiring,” Kalamazoo activist and former state Rep. Jon Hoadley told The ‘Gander. “It gives me so much energy, excitement, and joy that we can make big changes to the way a rigged system works to make it a little bit more fair for regular people.”

The For the People Act follows suit with a number of Michigan reforms beyond just changing the way districts are drawn. It also creates a system of automatic voter registration, increases ease of access to early and absentee voting, and allows for same-day voter registration—all policies Michigan implemented in 2018 and successfully demonstrated in 2020.

Of course, as Michigan leaders underwent implementing those policies, building public trust in them by being clear and transparent was important. 

“There’s a need to proactively educate citizens on the safety and security of the process,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told The ‘Gander last summer. “Democracy is very much about enabling voters’ voices and the power that citizens have in determining who has power in our country.”

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The For the People Act does go farther than Michigan has in combating the influence of money in politics, however. Small-dollar donations to political campaigns would be matched by the government and financed by fees on banks and corporations paying criminal penalties. That would help ordinary Michiganders, as well as Americans nationwide, counter the outsized influence of deep-pocketed special interests on political campaigns.

Bringing that change to Michigan is of particular importance to Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing), who has made changing the influence of money in politics a core part of her work in Washington. 

“I believe that people have started to lose faith that their government truly represents them because of unlimited money in politics and a belief that too many elected officials have forgotten that they are public servants,” Slotkin said in a statement, “This comprehensive bill addresses campaign finance reform, accountability, and voting rights in order to root out corruption, increase transparency, and ensure that we return to a government of, by, and for the people.”

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“Congress must ensure that every American has a say in our political system, which will go a long way toward restoring faith and trust in government,” said Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Birmingham) after voting for the bill.

The bill would also make Election Day a national holiday. And those reforms are why Stevens supports the For the People Act. 

“I am hopeful that the For The People Act will revitalize our democracy by combatting the dominant influence of big money in politics, expanding voting rights, and strengthening ethics laws to combat the culture of corruption in Washington,” added Stevens. 

Unlike in Michigan, where the question establishing the new process of redistricting was put to the people through ballot initiatives thanks to the work of the group Voters Not Politicians, the For the People Act must pass through both chambers of Congress before making its way to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. 

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Political analysts argue that in order for the legislation to clear those hurdles, Senate Democrats need to end the filibuster to prevent Republican obstruction from getting in the way of progress. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but for local activists, Michigan’s voting rights reforms are an example of the difference the people can make when they join together.

“I think these are the things that are on the horizon,” said Hoadley, “that are possible when we come together to call for big change.”