Let the Voters Decide

Posted on October 1, 2015

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Veteran election lawyer Bob Bauer had some simple but powerful advice Wednesday for about 50 young attorneys who gathered for a meeting of the D.C. Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society. 

“Let the voters decide,” he said.

Responding to a question on the best way to ensure that every voter has an equal voice in our democracy, Bauer said public financing of state and local campaigns would protect individual voices from to being overpowered by wealthy special interests.  Bauer also pointed to the need for protection from legislative maneuvering to suppress access to the ballot.  Finally, he encouraged advocates to get engaged in election protection well advance of “when the cake is already baked” on Election Day.  Bauer cautioned, however, that there is no single silver bullet reform.

Bauer was Co-Chair of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, former White House Counsel to President Obama, and was recently named one of America’s Leading Political Law Lawyers.  Bauer reflected on his thirty years of legal practice in counseling and representing political campaigns. 

His remarks highlight a clear theme emerging from recent public opinion polls:  that there is something fundamentally wrong in American democracy today.  Five years after the Supreme Court decided that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend an unlimited amount of money in political campaigns, a new Bloomberg Politics national poll reveals that the electorate – in both major parties -- has had enough.  Republicans report opposing Citizens United 80 percent to 18 percent, while Democrats oppose it 83 percent to 13 percent. 

All voices must be heard, whether the issue is money and politics or access to the ballot. Challenges to the voter suppression laws enacted in North Carolina and Texas after the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision in 2013, are finally being tried on the merits and winding their way through the federal courts.  Now, a new lawsuit seems imminent in Alabama, where state law requires prospective voters to provide strict photo identification but the state government has just announced plans to close DMV offices in 29 counties where ID cards are issued.

For nearly 50 years, Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act with little ado.  The statute was passed with bipartisan leadership, and reauthorizations were signed by Republican Presidents – Nixon (1970); Ford (1975); Reagan (1982); and George W. Bush (2006).  Yet today, the Voting Rights Advancement Act can’t even get a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R – VA), to establish a congressional record on the need for new, critical voting rights protections.

Legislators should not fear letting voters decide.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently reminded us of Madison’s teaching on the importance of direct democracy:  “The genius of republican liberty seems to demand . . . not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those entrusted with it should be kept in dependence on the people.” 

Let the Voters Decide.

Take Action Now:

Call your senators and tell them to vote for the Democracy for All constitutional amendment (S.J. Res. 19) to get big, special interest money out of politics.

Sign our petition to tell Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and protect every American’s right to vote.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Money in Politics

Tags: Citizens United

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