Close the 3 loopholes that are harming the 2020 election

We can do it with H.R. 1, a historic bill that would make it easier to vote, transform campaign financing, and ban partisan gerrymandering.

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SOURCEBrennan Center For Justice

Super Tuesday voting this week was marred by long lines more appropriate for a theme park than a 21st-century democracy. In Texas and California, primary voters in multiple polling places had to wait in lines as long as three to seven hours before casting their vote. And yet again, the long lines appear to have been especially concentrated in precincts serving communities of color and students.

This is a familiar problem, and if not addressed, it is bound to be much worse during the general election, which is expected to have record-level turnout. It goes without saying that it should not be this hard to vote in America.

The tragedy is that we already know how to fix our voting system and prevent these problems, and the solutions are already in legislation that passed in the House one year ago but then stalled in the Senate. H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019, is a historic bill that would make it easier to vote, transform how campaigns are funded, and ban partisan gerrymandering, among other critical changes.

Long lines, of course, are not the only problem. Serious loopholes in our legal infrastructure make it all too easy for self-interested actors to distort our democracy through vote suppression, disinformation, a broken campaign finance system, and extreme gerrymandering. These problems are already tainting the 2020 election, but they could be fixed by H.R. 1.

Vote suppression

Before the first ballot of 2020 was even cast, states were already moving to kick hundreds of thousands of people off the voter rolls. More than 300,000 voters have already been purged from the rolls in Georgia. Conservative activists have sued to purge more than 200,000 voters in Wisconsin and thousands more in Detroit, Michigan, and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Discriminatory voter purges and other vote suppression tactics, like polling place closures and strict ID requirements, have been on the rise since the Supreme Court gutted key protections of the landmark Voting Rights Act in 2013. At least 17 million voters were purged from 2016 to 2018, most in jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices that were previously subject to enhanced legal safeguards that the court disabled.

Overall, voters in 25 states will face laws that make it harder to vote in this election than it was a decade ago. In at least eight states, it will be harder to vote than it was in 2018.  The Republican National Committee recently pledged to spend $10 million to defend restrictions on voting.

H.R. 1, along with companion legislation, would stop these shenanigans by restoring the protections of the Voting Rights Act and setting baseline national rules, like automatic voter registration and two weeks of early voting, to ensure that every American has convenient access to voting. To prevent the long lines that plague American elections, H.R. 1 requires states to ensure that no one waits more than 30 minutes to vote and makes election administration improvements to ensure they succeed.

Campaign finance

This election is being conducted under the weakest campaign finance rules since 1972. Billionaires and corporations can spend unlimited dollars on U.S. campaigns thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision and other rulings. This year, a tiny group of megadonors is drowning out millions of small donors. And the agency charged with enforcing the remaining rules, the notoriously dysfunctional Federal Election Commission, is now completely immobilized without a quorum.

The lack of any real constraints has allowed President Trump to shatter fundraising records and attend fundraisers where million-dollar donors, including a foreign billionaire and the recently indicted Rudolph Guiliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, request government favors. Big money has also flooded the Democratic presidential primaries, most visibly the $400 million of Michael Bloomberg’s personal fortune.

H.R. 1 would create a public financing system to boost the power of small donors, shore up other campaign spending regulations, and strengthen enforcement.

Gerrymandering

A full decade since legislative districts were last drawn, extreme partisan gerrymanders are still in place in 10 states, either for congressional or legislative maps. In the closely divided state of Ohio, for instance, Republicans won 75 percent of the state’s seats with 52 percent of the vote; no Ohio seat has changed hands between the parties since 2010.

Both parties are amassing war chests to seize whatever advantage they can in the upcoming 2021 redistricting cycle. Extreme gerrymandering violates bedrock constitutional principles, but the Supreme Court ruled last year that only the political branches can fix it. H.R. 1 would do just that, by banning partisan gerrymandering, requiring independent commissions to draw congressional maps, and ensuring the process is open and transparent.

H.R. 1 would revitalize our democracy, if we can muster the political will to pass it. We must, because if we don’t, we will not be able to solve our most pressing problems if we don’t fix our democracy first. It’s up to us to demand that every candidate running for president and Congress make clear they are committed to a democracy in which every American’s voice matters and will enact H.R. 1 if elected.

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Wendy Weiser directs the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan think tank and public interest law center that works to revitalize, reform, and defend systems of democracy and justice. Her program focuses on voting rights and elections, money in politics and ethics, redistricting and representation, government dysfunction, rule of law, and fair courts. She founded and directed the program’s Voting Rights and Elections Project, directing litigation, research, and advocacy efforts to enhance political participation and prevent voter disenfranchisement across the country. She has authored a number of nationally recognized publications and articles on voting rights and election reform, litigated groundbreaking lawsuits on democracy issues, testified before both houses of Congress and in a variety of state legislatures, and provided legislative and policy drafting assistance to federal and state legislators and administrators across the country. She is a frequent public speaker and media commentator on democracy issues. She has appeared on CBS News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, PBS, ABC News, and NPR, among others; her commentary has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and elsewhere; and she is frequently quoted by the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Journal, Politico, and other news outlets across the country. She has also served as an adjunct professor at NYU School of Law. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, Weiser was a senior attorney at NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, where she worked on issues of access to the courts and domestic violence; a litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and a law clerk to Judge Eugene H. Nickerson in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. She received her BA from Yale College and her JD from Yale Law School. Daniel I. Weiner serves as deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program, where he helps to lead the Center’s work on money in politics, government ethics, election security, and other democracy issues. He is the author or co-author of several nationally-recognized reports, and also writes and comments regularly on election law and democracy issues for media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, MSNBC, and NPR. He has provided policy advice and drafting assistance to lawmakers in Washington and across the country, and delivered testimony and briefings to Congress, state legislatures, and federal and state agencies. Outside of his work at the Brennan Center, Weiner helps to adjudicate attorney discipline case for the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility as chair of a Board hearing committee. Weiner previously served as senior counsel to Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub at the Federal Election Commission, including during her term as chair of the Commission in 2013. In this role, Weiner assisted with managing the agency and advised the commissioner on a broad array of issues under the First Amendment, federal campaign finance law, and the Administrative Procedure Act. Before his service at the FEC, Weiner practiced law in the Washington, DC, office of Jenner & Block, LLP. At Jenner, Weiner litigated cases at the trial and appellate levels, counseled a wide variety of clients, and maintained an active pro bono practice focused particularly on LGBTQ rights. Weiner received his JD from Harvard Law School. He clerked for the Honorable Diana E. Murphy on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He graduated magna cum laude with honors from Brown University, with a degree in history.

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