Oh Great, Democrats Want To Let Americans Vote. What's Next, SOCIALIST TRANSGENDER ARUGULA?
The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives didn't waste any time getting to work last week. After passing a bill to reopen the government (DOA because no WALL, even though it's identical to a Senate bill that passed unanimously before the shutdown), Dems rolled out "House Bill 1," an ambitious package of election and ethics reforms aimed at making elections fairer and reducing the influence of money on politics. Republicans will never get behind it, but that's kind of the point: to call attention to the differences between the parties on some pretty basic matters of democracy and fairness, and to lay down a marker for what voters can expect Dems to run on in 2020.
It's also a pretty big departure from the Republican House in 2017, whose first legislative achievement was making it easier for people declared mentally incompetent to buy guns.
The bill, at 571 pages, is some serious legislative heavy lifting -- just the table of contents runs 12 pages. Again, that's a change -- the Republicans' preference, as in the bill to repeal Obamacare, was to write bills in secret then spring them on Congress just before a hasty vote. The package of reforms covers three major areas, all of which are important to Democratic voters: voting rights, campaign finance reform, and government ethics. In a nice nod to the Gettysburg Address (by some radical old-timey Republican who wouldn't recognize his party today), the bill is called the "For the People Act."
Make Democracy* Work Again
* "IT'S A REPUBLIC!!!"
The voting reforms alone would make for an ambitious agenda. In the wake of an election in which Republicans did all they could to restrict voting in Georgia, North Dakota, Florida, and really, everydamnwhere (not to mention the apparent Republican frauding in North Carolina), the bill calls for some national standards for voting. While states still have the power to run their elections as they see fit, Congress has the power to regulate federal elections, and so how about some truly standardized standards? HB 1 would mandate the following:
- National automatic voter registration of all citizens over 18 (with an option for people to opt out)
- Same-day registration on election day
- A minimum of two weeks of early voting
- Funding to help states adopt paper ballots
- Restoration of felons' voting rights after they've completed their sentences
- An end to aggressive vote purges, particularly that "purge by postcard" scheme several states use where they remove people from the rolls for not returning a postcard what looks like junk mail
- Creating standardized absentee voting procedures for members of the military and Americans living abroad
- Making election day a holiday for federal employees and encouraging states to follow suit
But wait, there's MORE: The bill would also mandate an end to partisan gerrymandering for House seats, instead requiring states to set up a nonpartisan commission to draw congressional districts, taking that job out of the hands of partisan state legislators. That's one big-ass good-government deal, since while state legislatures would still be free to create gerrymandered districts for state offices, they'd face pressure to let the nonpartisan panel do it as well for the sake of efficiency (and maybe to avoid lawsuits).
Further, HB 1 calls for Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act, bringing back judicial pre-clearance for areas with a history of voter suppression. The Supremes gutted that part of the VRA in 2013, but the decision left open the option for pre-clearance to return as long as it's based on more recent data than the state of affairs in 1965. House Dems are already planning hearings on current voter-suppression tactics, so fixing the VRA is a thing that could actually be accomplished with unified Democratic government. Imagine that.
Finally, the bill would improve election security and direct the Director of National Intelligence to stay on top of foreign hacking or other interference. And to cut down on long lines on voting day, which mysteriously crop up mostly in areas with high minority populations, the bill would fund the recruitment and training of more poll workers before the 2020 elections -- since this thing will need unified government to become law, let's just say 2024.
Fuck You, Big Money
HB 1 would attempt to offset the influence of outside money in several ways. The biggest would be creating an option for public funding of congressional campaigns. For every hundred dollars of small-donor money (up to $200 per donor), a candidate would receive $600 in federal matching funds. Candidates who aren't rich and don't have an in with big-money interests would actually stand a chance against those with super-PACs backing them! Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, one of the bill's primary authors, said models predict this arrangement would allow most candidates to "do as well or better in terms of the dollars they raise if they step into this new system."
The bill also supports a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, and would require an end to "dark money" contributions to super-PACs and other anonymously funded campaign organizations. Other provisions would require Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to disclose funding of campaign ads, just like how TV works now, and would end partisan deadlock on the Federal Elections Commission by changing it from the current four commissioners to five.
Could We Please Have Some Ethics Please?
The big one in this section would be a requirement that the president and vice president, and all candidates for those offices, disclose their tax returns going back 10 years. Probably just because Democrats are jealous of what a YOOGE success Donald Trump is.
Other provisions would prohibit members of Congress from using taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims and give the Office of Government Ethics more teeth in the enforcement of ethics rules for the executive branch -- including oversight of foreign agents, ahem, Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. And in a special nod to rightwing Supreme Court justices who hear cases on issues their spouses actively promote, the bill would impose a new ethics code on the Supreme Court, not that HB 1 mentions Ginni Thomas by name. Ethics for all three branches of government!
Of course, Republicans would never vote for the whole bill, but it's a hell of a political roadmap for reform of some huge issues that have only gotten worse under Donald Trump and the Lords of Misrule. Many of HB 1's provisions are designed to be broken into individual pieces of legislation, some of which may actually stand a chance of passing both houses right now, like possibly the tightening of election security or the provision on disclosing who pays for social media political ads.
And oh, my, what a fine answer to people who claim Democrats don't stand for anything other than opposition to Trump. Let's hope Dems running in 2020 make a hell of a lot of noise about this. Elizabeth Warren, who last year introduced an anti-corruption bill in the Senate, seems likely to make really cleaning out the swamp a major part of her campaign. And just think what government might look like if people really got the chance to vote, huh?
Wonkette is your ethical compass. Pay the lady, if you are able!
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.