Voices & Choices

Democracy tops agenda for new Congress

Democracy tops agenda for new Congress

New year. New Congress. New agenda, leading off with a better democracy.

So say supporters of H.R. 1, the top legislative priority for Democratic leaders who now hold a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

With the 116th Congress now sworn in and the Speaker elected, the time has come to determine whether, and how, the long-awaited anti-corruption and good government bill will come to fruition. As detailed in its November unveiling by Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the comprehensive legislation seeks to upend practices relating to campaign finance, government ethics and voting rights - though restoration of the Voting Rights Act itself has since split off as its own bill.

Key components include a small donation matching fund for congressional campaigns - ostensibly reducing the influence of big money in politics; stronger financial reporting requirements, including mandatory tax return disclosure by the president, nationwide automatic voter registration and an end to partisan gerrymandering.

While Democratic leaders have led the charge for the new reform, they aren’t the only supporters. Three-quarters of voters in 2018 battleground districts named ending political corruption as their top priority, according to a new poll from End Citizens United published by Vox on Thursday. A strong majority of those surveyed - 82 percent - indicated support for a reform package.

The findings echo results from the midterm elections, where voter-led initiatives aimed at redistricting reform and improved voting access won by considerable margins.

But national change takes time, and passage this year would take a level of bipartisanship that does not yet exist on aspects of the provision. If it makes it out of the House, the Republican majority in the Senate seems unlikely to move it forward.

Still, the bill marks a step in the right direction for several reforms that FairVote has helped develop or support, including modernizing voter registration, enforcing the Voting Rights Act and curbing partisan gerrymandering. While FairVote’s central reform priorities, notably ranked choice voting and the Fair Representation Act, are not directly part of the legislation, many H.R. 1 proponents also support these measures.  

The coalition of organizations helping advance H.R. 1 includes leaders in the Declaration for American Democracy; FairVote Action, a 501-c-4 lobbying organization, has signed onto the Declaration of American Democracy to show support for its principles.

FairVote’s President and CEO Rob Richie said of the legislation:

“By introducing this package of changes to elections and voting rights as the first act of the new Congress, HR 1 sponsors are elevating the goal of a truly representative democracy. We need action in that spirit nationally, in state and in local government. FairVote is proud to be part of that broader conversation and encouraged by our chances to work for change with people from across the spectrum in support of a common goal: a government that truly is of, by and for the people.”

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Illustration by Mikhaila Markham

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