March 2019 Bill on Ethics and Voting Rights

March 2019 Bill on Ethics and Voting Rights

Bill on Ethics and Voting Rights: New House Voices Shake Things Up and Veterans Hold the Line

Strategically using their 2018 victory at the polls, Democrats moved to reaffirm American ethics and values. They did so by creating HR 1, a bill addressing voting rights, ethics, and campaign finance — “the most sweeping, pro-democracy legislation in 50 years,” noted Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, at the press conference to introduce the bill. Among other actions, it would create a federal holiday for election day, expand early and mail-in voting, and restore rights to the formerly incarcerated.

The need for this legislation is stark, as House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD-07) noted in his opening statement at hearings on the bill. He recounted his shock in reading the judgment of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals about a move by the 2016 North Carolina legislature. The legislature requested data on how different races used the various registration and voting methods offered by the state. Once in receipt of the information, they restricted voting in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affect African-Americans, in ways characterized by the 4th Circuit federal judges as targeting this population with surgical accuracy.

Senator McConnell characterized HR 1 as “a power grab.” Given how the NC legislature arrived at restrictions on voting methods, who really is making the power grab?

It was precisely this point that newly elected Congresswoman Ayana Pressley (D-MA- 07) – one of the first African-American women elected to represent New England – made later in the hearing. “You got us again!” she offered as a rejoinder to Mr. McConnell as she proudly restated the intent of HR 1 to ensure enfranchisement, to “engage more voices and to empower them in this democracy.”

A similar desire to rectify our “fundamentally broken” system was evident in another newly elected Member of Congress’s questioning. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) used a hypothetical situation of a “really, really bad person” who wanted ultimately to create laws and regulations that would increase his or her ability to make money. She was able to show that there essentially are no campaign finance or ethics rules preventing this situation – and did so in language that demystifies Congress and makes its workings accessible and relevant to ordinary Americans.

WNDC and other grassroots activists worked hard in 2018 to flip the House and fill it with hardworking, ethical, and strategic Members such as these. This hearing – both its content as well as its style – show the power of that work. We look forward to more such ethical oversight and accountability in government, and to supporting the Members of Congress who are leading this charge.

–Melinda Burrell, Chair, Elections/GOTV Task Force