Monica Cannaley of Westfield believes the work of the nation’s government begins with giving everyone access to the ballot box.
“We can’t get anything else done if everyone does not participate,” she said.
That conviction carried Cannaley, who has advocated primarily for environmental causes, to downtown Indianapolis on Tuesday to join several dozen other voting rights supporters to push for the passage of S.1, the For the People Act of 2021. They gathered in front of the district offices of Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun to promote what they see as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to strengthen the right to vote and, as Cannaley said, “allow all of us to participate in the process.”
The rally, organized by Common Cause Indiana and including several civic advocacy organizations, started in front of the skyscraper on North Illinois Street that houses Young’s office. Leaders of the different groups took turns at the microphone to outline the elements in the For the People Act and how Hoosiers would benefit from the bill’s passage.
“Unfortunately, it has been labeled a partisan effort when voting rights, when improving ethics, when reducing the influence of big money on politics, those should never be partisan issues,” Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said as the crowd let out a cheer. “… We’re here today to call on the two U.S. senators from Indiana … to listen to their constituents and support S.1, the For the People Act.”
Common Cause passed out flyers that included the office phone numbers of Young and Braun. Vaughn urged the members of the crowd to start dialing and voice their support of the bill before they left the rally.
The For the People Act is a comprehensive bill that touches multiple parts of the election process. Provisions expand voter access by allowing same-day voter registration and mail-in balloting while also limiting the removal of individuals from voter rolls. It also calls for bolstering election security, brings transparency to campaign finance and requires states to establish independent redistricting commissions to draw the congressional districts.
The bill passed through the House on a party-line vote of 220 to 210. All the Indiana Republicans — Reps. James Baird, Jim Banks, Larry Bucshon, Trey Hollingsworth, Greg Pence, Victoria Spartz and Jackie Walorski — joined their GOP colleagues in voting against the measure. Indiana Democratic Reps. Andre Carson and Frank Mrvan voted for the bill.
Speaking at the rally, Amanda Shepherd, director of the Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club, talked about the connection between environmental justice and democracy. She said in order to confront the climate crisis, voters must have access to the polling places.
“All too often, the voice of us — the people — is curtailed by voter suppression, big money in politics, corruption and gerrymandered districts,” Shepherd said, adding that a healthy democracy has enabled the passage of such legislation as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. “Without a functional, fair and representative democracy where the American People are the ones who hold the power, not the corporate polluters and not the super-rich, we won’t be able to continue the fight.”
Currently, the For the People Act remains stalled in the Senate by a GOP filibuster.
But as the rally sought to convince Young and Braun to vote yes, spokespeople for the senators pointed to their previous statements made in recent weeks opposing the For the People Act. Braun characterized the bill as enabling the federal government to interfere with how states run their elections, while Young claimed the bill was actually a power grab.
“This legislation takes a system that is actually working quite well and applies drastic, draconian and desperate election reforms meant to keep Democrats in power,” Young said during a floor speech June 16.
Ami Gandhi, senior counsel with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, told the crowd not to get discouraged. She pointed to November 2020, when the country faced what she called “the perfect storm of voter suppression,” which included the COVID-19 pandemic forcing unprecedented changes to the election process and the federal administration “perpetuating myths of voter fraud, intimidating and confusing voters.”
However, voters still turned out, with more than 159 million Americans casting a ballot in the presidential contest. The November 2020 election had the highest voter turnout in the 21st century.
“If there’s one thing that you remember today abut this really inspiring rally, please remember that you’re not alone,” Gandhi said. “… There’s an army of voting rights warriors ready here in Indiana and across the country.”
After the speeches, the group marched a few blocks to Braun’s office on North Pennsylvania Street. Cannaley hoisted a sign that read “It’s NOT ‘For the POWER.’ It’s ‘For the PEOPLE.’” Others also waved signs calling for the passage of S.1 and for redistricting reform. As they snaked their way along the sidewalks and across the intersections, some drivers honked and waved in support.
Brandon Evans, co-founder of the group Hoosiers Organized People Energized, said he was excited to be part of the rally but noted Indiana continues to rank among the worst states in terms of voter turnout. His group is working to register Hoosiers to vote and to increase their engagement in civic life.
The For the People Act is a good first step, Evans said, to tackling the “root problems of our democracy.” He sees the bill as helping get more people registered and to the polls.
Barbara Tully, president of Indiana Vote by Mail, said she also believes the For the People Act will improve voter access and participation among Hoosiers. She said supporters of the bill just want people to be able to vote in a manner that meets the needs they have as voters, and she dismissed as a “dog whistle” the accusations that the bill would usher in a federal takeover state-run elections.
“That’s not what this is,” Tully said. “… Indiana is still going to run its elections. It’s just establishing standards so that more people get brought into the process, and that’s exactly what we want — more people in the process.”