I took a month or so off after the dust settled on last November’s elections, then some time through the holidays to recharge and work on the book. But in the meantime, Santa didn’t answer my modest request for progressive election law reform and nationwide changes to redistricting practices. So the battle continues in 2019.
So stay tuned for the latest on voting rights and fair elections as the nation slowly gears up for the 2019 and 2020 elections. Here are some of the top stories you may have missed over the holiday season and the new year.
New year. Old battles.
1. Congress makes a (symbolic?) effort to reform election laws
The first bill proposed by the new Democratic-controlled Congress is H.R.1 — modestly titled the “For the People Act of 2019” — a sweeping proposal to improve voting rights, reform campaign finance laws, and crack down on of lobbying.
Key highlights include:
- establish nationwide automatic voter registration
- promotion of early voting and same-day voter registration
- make Election Day a federal holiday to encourage voter participation
- end partisan gerrymandering in federal elections and prohibit voter roll purging through “postcard” mailers
- improve election security
- recruit and train more poll workers to reduce long waits at polling locations
- the “DISCLOSE Act,” requiring Super PACs and “dark money” organizations to reveal who their donors are
- the “Honest Ads Act” which would require Facebook and Twitter to disclose the who paid for political ads and how much they spent
- support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling
- require the President and Vice President to disclose 10 years of tax returns
Let’s be honest: in 2019 this is a wonderful fantasy. It’s a dream list of reforms to make voting easier and more accessible to millions of Americans, as well as to reduce the impact of unlimited dark money flooding U.S. elections. And these reforms enjoy broad public support.
But it will pass the House, then die of neglect in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already promised to kill the bill. And Trump would never sign it.
So it’s dead on arrival, but it’s a good start, even if such a bill has no chance to pass until after 2020. There’s no downside to putting a vote on the record for who stands for more fair and open elections, and who wants to stand in the way.
2. Real reform in New York
As opposed to H.R.1, actual legislation is set to pass in New York State to transform it from being one of the worst states in the nation for voting rights to one of the best. New York’s election law overhaul will add early voting, election day registration, preregistration of minors, and “no excuse” absentee voting. The state would also end the practice of having state and primary elections on different days, which discouraged turnout. All of these reforms are a huge step forward.
3. North Carolina GOP terrified of “voter fraud,” unimpressed by election fraud.
For years, the North Carolina GOP has worked to restrict and tighten election laws to make it harder to vote in the state, all in the name of protecting Tar Heel state from the mythic, invisible threat of alleged widespread “voter fraud.”
But now, faced with an actual case of apparent election fraud involving stolen absentee ballots, ballot tampering, and shady characters with connections to Republican candidate, Mark Harris, the North Carolina GOP wants the state board of elections to look the other way. The Board of Elections refused to certify the results of the election, which Harris narrowly won. And this week, a judge rejected a GOP lawsuit to overrule the elections board and certify the election results. GOP representatives are outraged. Apparently concern over “election integrity” only goes so far…
A new election for the congressional seat in the 9th district is expected later this year.
4. Willian Barr is going to suck, too
Good news: Jeff Sessions is gone.
Bad news: Civil right experts expect his likely replacement, as Attorney General, William Barr, to be equally horrible on voting rights at the Department of Justice. The Trump administration is counting on Barr to “see Sessions’ legacy move forward.”
5. Judge nixes one of the Wisconsin GOP’s lame-duck power grabs
Last November, Wisconsin voters kicked out Republican governor and the Koch Brother’s favorite pet project, Scott Walker. Not long after his replacement, Democrat Tony Evers, finished his acceptance speech, the heavily gerrymandered Wisconsin state legislature started putting together legislation to strip the incoming governor of many of his powers, limiting his ability to make policy decisions on health care, welfare, and economic development. They also passed legislation to limit the powers of the incoming Democratic attorney general and restrict early voting, which tends to favor younger, low-income, and African-American voters.
As his final middle finger to Wisconsin — and democratic principles in general — Scott Walker signed the laws, which fly in the face of the outcome of the election. Walker couldn’t win his re-election, so after his defeat, he signed laws to take power away from his democratically-elected replacement.
But this month, a judge threw out the changes to early voting, citing the fact that the courts had already struck down such restrictions for nakedly “stifling votes for partisan gain.”
6. Fair Fight Georgia gets to work
In the aftermath her loss to voter suppression enthusiast Jeff Kemp in the race to be Georgia’s governor, Stacey Abrams pledged to continue her fight for voting rights and fair elections. It wasn’t just a platitude tacked onto her speech. This month, that promise became reality with the launch of Fair Fight Georgia. It’s mission: “to advocate for election reform and engage in voter education and turnout to secure the voting rights of Georgians .”
Fortunately for Georgia voters, it’s not to soon to start fighting for more fair and open elections. One of its Senate seats is up for grabs in 2020, and having shown itself to be a swing state in 2018, we can expect Georgia to be a significant battleground for both Congress and the White House. Fair Fight Georgia might help make the difference.