Super Tuesday voting last 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.
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.
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.
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.