Ben Jealous and Gregory King column: For Virginia, Black History Month is the right time to support the For the People Act

And we also believe Virginia’s congressional members have a moral responsibility to do the same for Virginians and all Americans at the national level, by co-sponsoring and voting for House Resolution 1, the For the People Act.

This is a bill that would outlaw partisan, racial gerrymandering — the process of creating voting districts unfairly skewed toward one party or group. It would put a stop to voter suppression tactics like drastic purges of voter rolls and discriminatory voter ID laws. Efforts to ensure racial equity pervade this bill; the redistricting commissions that it calls for to combat gerrymandering must respect and preserve communities of interest, and must be inclusive and representative.

There are other provisions, too, that would have the effect of making our democracy more inclusive. One of these is small-donor matching funds for candidates to help slash the outsize political influence of moneyed special interests. Some critics have taken aim at the bill by claiming that this means taxpayers would be forced to shoulder the cost of campaigns.

That is not true. The matching funds would come from fines and penalties paid by lawbreaking corporations.

The For the People Act first passed the House back in 2019 with unanimous support and co-sponsorship of House Democrats. It went on to die in Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell’s U.S. Senate graveyard, but this is a new day. The act has more than a fighting chance of passing and being signed into law this year. Its success would be a dramatic step forward toward a government in which all of our communities are represented and given a chance to thrive, and elected representatives truly do the will of their constituents.

Originally published at https://richmond.com on February 21, 2021.

President, People For the American Way. Visiting Scholar, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. Former National President, NAACP.

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