Policy Proposals

Threats to our systems of democracy and justice have been intensifying in recent years. The Trump White House has sharply escalated these pressures, smashing through traditions and laws that embody the values of the Constitution. We need a modern reform agenda, outfitted for the circumstances of the 21st century, to fortify these systems and the rule of law under this administration and beyond.

At the Brennan Center, we are well-positioned to play a central role in advancing these affirmative reforms, as our work revolves around crafting innovative policies and fighting for them. We want to ensure every eligible voter can vote. Our signature voting reform, automatic voter registration, now in place in 10 states and the District of Columbia, accomplishes this. We want to ensure no one is unnecessarily incarcerated. Our sentencing reform work underpins The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act and was introduced this year in the Senate and House. We want to curb money’s influence on politics through a small donor public financing system that would give ordinary voters a stronger voice in choosing their leaders. From protecting the vote to restoring the rule of law, these policies and initiatives will strengthen norms of democratic governance and the rule of law. 


 
In the past two years, ten states have enacted automatic voter registration – a plan first developed by the Brennan Center. Most recently Illinois’ Republican governor signed automatic registration into law after it passed the legislature unanimously. Fully implemented nationwide, it would add tens of millions to the rolls, cost less, and boost security. 

 

Strengthening Democratic Norms + the Rule of Law

American democracy is under enormous pressure with the unwritten norms central to our constitutional order threatened. In response, the Brennan Center is launching the National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy, a nonpartisan initiative led by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman.

 

Protecting Our Elections Against Foreign Interference

Russia attacked American democracy in 2016. It will try again, as will other malevolent actors. The Brennan Center has tapped its expertise in voting systems to craft an answer. Our proposal for how to protect voting machines and databases from future foreign hacking was widely endorsed. Former CIA director James Woolsey wrote the foreword. Legislation based on our proposal, introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), is moving forward in Congress.

 

 
For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court may strike down legislative lines because they reflect an extreme partisan gerrymander. We play a key role in this legal drive. The Center coordinated two dozen “friend of the court” briefs. Noteworthy filings came from Republicans (Sen. John McCain and Govs. John Kasich and Arnold Schwarzenegger and others), political scientists, historians, and voters. The Center’s brief showed the Court how it could forestall a flood of future suits. A ruling next spring could reshape American politics. 
 
 
In June, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act, based on our 2016 proposal. As Rolling Stone explained, “Instead of the stick approach of incentivizing states to lock tens of thousands of people up, this proposal extends a carrot – cash, to be more precise – to incentivize states to decrease their prison populations.” Senate Judiciary chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) lauded the measure.  

 

 
The Brennan Center has pioneered a clear, simple proposal — consistent with all Supreme Court rulings — to counter special interest spending: small donor public financing. Under our plan, small donations are matched and multiplied to help re-direct candidates’ attention from moneyed interests to ordinary citizens. A $50 donation in a five-to-one matching system, for example, is worth $300 to the candidate.

 

The Brennan Center has long been concerned about the dramatic expansion of surveillance powers after 9/11. Misuse of these authorities sows fears, warps democratic institutions, and chills dissent. We continue our work to ensure these authorities are properly targeted and subjected to oversight, including reforming laws that permit warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications and protecting civil liberties when the government unfairly targets certain communities.