The right to vote is not only critical, it is the core value that holds our entire democratic process together. While our country has not always granted the right to vote to every citizen, generations have fought under the banner of freedom and democracy to achieve this right. I grew up in Alabama, the epicenter of the civil rights movement, where the ideals of fair and equal access to our democracy were ingrained in me. Those ideals were enshrined in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, however, since the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder, we have seen this crown jewel of the civil rights movement eroded through the reduction of polling locations, restrictions on innovative voting options that encourage engagement in communities of color, the implementation of strict voter ID laws, and unrestrained gerrymandering by states with a history of voter disenfranchisement. This cannot stand.
It is time to move forward with a new, more robust legislative package that can ensure every American’s voting access is secure for generations to come. Democratic leadership has introduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act which will restore the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act that prevents states with a history of voter disenfranchisement from making changes to election laws and districts without obtaining approval.
In addition to this effort, Democratic leadership has also introduced the Freedom to Vote Act which will expand protections even further and seeks to restrict the influence of corporate money in politics. Though this bill has been stalled in the Senate, the legislation within is crucial to the survival of our democracy and we must continue to fight for its provisions. I will fight for the following provisions to ensure fair elections:
Establish national voting access standards.
We must create minimum election standards for every community to protect equal access to the ballot box. This includes promoting more mail-in ballots, more polling locations, expanded voting hours, more early voting, and more innovative solutions, like drive through voting. Additionally, states should be required to provide equal access to polling locations based on population density rather than land area.
Eliminate partisan gerrymandering.
For our democracy to work for all people, all people must be represented. Gerrymandering is one of the greatest hinderances to our legislative progress as it allows legislators to choose the electorate instead of the electorate making their own choice for representation.
Implement the small donor match system.
We all recognize that “big money” in politics damages our democratic system. Not only does it sow distrust in our elected leaders, it prevents candidates who have limited access to financial resources from starting competitive campaigns. This provision will create a fundraising mechanism to help these potential candidates.
Foster bipartisan support for overturning Citizens United.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, which allows corporations and unions to spend an unlimited amount of money to influence elections, endangers our political institutions. This ruling has led to artificial “dark money” entities on both sides of the political spectrum having undue influence on our politicians and has exacerbated the partisan divide in Congress. Polling shows that the majority of Republican, Democrat, and independent voters support a constitutional amendment to allow legislatures to limit the amount that artificial entities can spend on campaigns. It is time for Congress to foster a bipartisan effort to introduce this constitutional amendment and move forward with campaign finance reform. Only then can we make progress on curbing political corruption and give power back to the American people.
Limit campaign fund rollover amounts.
Many incumbent campaigns, especially those in safe districts, accumulate millions in left-over campaign contributions. This stockpile of cash is often rolled over into the next election and as the cycle repeats, the funds continue to grow. This is a major deterrent for lesser known and first time campaigns to challenge an incumbent as it creates a wildly imbalanced playing field. This is especially true for younger candidates and candidates of color. If we want to foster a true democratic process where money has less impact, we must open our elections to more Americans who aspire to be candidates. Let's give our communities a real choice.
We can’t allow our country to return to the past where our neighbor’s voices are silenced. We must guarantee equal, unrestricted access to our polling locations, end partisan gerrymandering of our communities, and eliminate “dark money” from our elections to ensure our fundamental American right of fair representation is upheld for everyone.