Democracy Reform Tops Agenda for New Congress

Voters spoke loudly in favor of voting rights and reforms for redistricting and campaign finance

November 13, 2018

Democracy reform could take center stage in the new Congress, according to a top Democrat. 

The first legislative vote in the House in January will be on a bill to fix the system by establishing nationwide automatic voter registration, revitalizing the Voting Rights Act, and shifting redistricting from state legislatures to independent commissions, among other measures, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) told NPR.

"It's three very basic things that I think the public wants to see," said Sarbanes, who leads campaign finance and government ethics efforts for the House Democratic Caucus. This H.R. 1, he added, would "demonstrate that we hear that message loud and clear." 

Other H.R. 1 provisions aim to reduce the influence of big money in politics through stronger disclosure rules, an expansion of small-donor public financing, and a push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Americans want democracy reform

Americans didn’t just vote for a party change in Congress last week. They also approved, in resounding fashion, a record number of democracy-related measures on issues like ethics, redistricting, voting, and money in politics. Four states – Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah – passed citizen-led ballot initiatives to reform redistricting. Michigan also voted in favor of enacting automatic and same-day voter registration. Florida voted to re-enfranchise around 1.4 million people with past convictions. And across the country, there was widespread support for measures on voting access and on campaign ethics and finance. Meanwhile, voter suppression, long lines, machine failures, registration issues, and other problems at the polls made clear there's an urgent need to make voting easier.

By adopting democracy reform as its top priority, the House would help keep the issue at the center of the public conversation and build momentum ahead of the 2020 election. "The path back to having the public trust government and politics is a long one, but we have to start someplace," said Sarbanes.

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