Sarbanes: ‘For the People’ Reforms Ready To Go If Dems Sweep

U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.) at a hearing in 2019. Capital News Service photo by Eugene "Jesse" Nash IV.

Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.) thinks House Democrats will again try to pass their “For The People” reform package in 2021, arguing that Democratic wins in the upcoming election could allow the act to succeed.

That extensive anti-corruption effort, also known as H.R. 1, would have banned partisan gerrymandering and established automatic voter registration for all Americans. It also would’ve required presidents to disclose their tax returns, and reformed the country’s campaign finance system. The bill passed the House of Representatives this term, but stalled in the U.S. Senate and was unlikely to be signed by President Donald Trump.

During a virtual conversation with Maryland Matters reporters on Tuesday, Sarbanes said that if Democrats win the “trifecta” of the House, Senate and Presidency, they plan to immediately push the act through Congress.

“The H.R. 1 bag is packed and by the front door,” Sarbanes said. “If we win this election, we have to grab it and go.”

Sarbanes thinks that passing H.R. 1 and its slew of reforms would showcase Democrats’ ability to govern in a post-Trump era. He noted that his ambition of quickly passing the resolution hinges on Democratic wins across the board in the upcoming election.

“We’re going to absolutely come out of the gate with H.R. 1 again in the House, put as much force behind that as we can, hope that a Senate that’s in Democratic hands will understand the power of that … and get it to President Biden’s desk in the early days,” he said.

And the upcoming election might not be entirely smooth, Sarbanes noted. He said there will “no doubt” be litigation across the country under the unusual election circumstances brought on by the pandemic.

Sarbanes also cautioned against expecting results on election night. With an unprecedented number of Americans ― including more than a million Marylanders ― expected to cast their ballots by mail, the Nov. 3 election results could drag out for some time.

Sarbanes expects Trump to declare himself the early victor of the election in order to cast further doubt on the veracity of mail-in ballots. Trump has repeatedly attacked mail-in voting as fraud, despite the fact that voter fraud is extremely rare in mail-in elections.

“The president has made it clear what his narrative is going to be,” Sarbanes said. “It will be whatever favors him …  He believes that mail-in ballots will work against him. He wants to establish early that he’s the winner, and that any change in that means the election is being stolen from him.”

The best thing voters can do as they await results for the Nov. 3 election, Sarbanes said, is stay patient. He also hopes that press and pundits will “restrain their impulse” to call the election on the night of Nov. 3, and will instead wait until votes are counted to declare a winner.

“People should have some patience, count to 10, and kind of take a deep breath,” he said. “Educating the public on that scenario is important.”

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Bennett Leckrone
Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News. Leckrone is a Report for America corps member.