Progressives Demand Voting Rights Overhaul Amid GOP Suppression Efforts

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Progressives Demand Voting Rights Overhaul Amid GOP Suppression Efforts

A new bill sponsored by House Democrats would take aim at gerrymandering and challenge the entrenched two-party system

"Lots of folks believe that neither old party can fill the political vacuum—and they could be right. But Congressman Beyer has offered his party an opportunity to rise above partisanship and stand on principle," writes John Nichols. (Photo: Michael Fleshman/Flickr/cc)

As the Trump administration's "repugnant" and possibly illegal attempt to collect state voter data—which critics have characterized as part of a broader attempt to suppress the vote—continues to backfire immensely, several House Democrats are pushing for legislation that would bolster voting rights by taking aim at gerrymandering and giving voters more freedom through a system called ranked choice voting (RCV).

"The only way [systemic] change is going to come is if we have the grassroots citizens start to demand that change."
—Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)

Spearheading the effort is Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who recently introduced the Fair Representation Act, which he argues would "ensure that every voter has their voice represented in Congress, and make real progress towards bipartisan focus on getting results for the American people."

Beyer's legislation has two co-sponsors thus far: Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

The bill calls for several monumental reforms that supporters say would "create more opportunities for women and people of color from across the spectrum to compete in fair elections" and take on entrenched two-party dominance.

The most transformational element of the legislation, argues The Intercept's Zaid Jilani, is RCV, a system under which "voters would be able to rank their preferences among various candidates and parties, rather than simply casting one vote for each office."

"If no candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes, then second-preferences are accounted for, and so on, until one candidate has a majority," Jilani notes. "Under RCV, you can vote your conscience without helping a candidate you loathe win instead."

This, Jilani writes, would have the effect of "forc[ing] major party candidates to respect third-party voters and their ideas—after all, they would want their second-preference votes, and their third, and so on and so forth."

The bill would also remove the power of drawing congressional districts from the grip of state legislatures by requiring states to redistrict through independent commissions. This, Beyer argues, would prevent racial and partisan gerrymandering—which has become pervasive throughout the U.S., particularly in GOP-controlled districts—and "ensure that every voter has their voice represented in Congress."

Lastly, Beyer's bill would "require each state with more than one representative to establish multi-member congressional districts," which would provide voters with more freedom of choice and promote ideological diversity.

In an interview with The Intercept, Rep. Khanna praised Beyer for taking a courageous stand challenging a status quo that almost "everyone has bought into." But ultimately, Khanna concluded, systemic democratic change will not come from the top down.

"Lots of folks believe that neither old party can fill the political vacuum—and they could be right. But Congressman Beyer has offered his party an opportunity to rise above partisanship and stand on principle." 
—John Nichols, The Nation

"The only way that change is going to come is if we have the grassroots citizens start to demand that change," Khanna said.

John Nichols, writing for The Nation, argues that such demand already exists and has existed for quite some time.

One measure Nichols highlights is a 2013 Harris poll, which found an overwhelming majority of American voters believe that "those who stand to benefit from redrawing congressional districts should not have a say in how they are redrawn"—a view that bolsters Beyer's argument for independent commissions.

If Democrats want to wrest control from the Republican Party—which now holds unprecedented power at every level of government—they must follow Beyer's lead and become "the party of democratic renewal" by "promoting bold and meaningful changes that empower voters to end the malaise in Washington and state capitals nationwide," Nichols writes.

"Americans are looking for just such a party," Nichols concludes. "Lots of folks believe that neither old party can fill the political vacuum—and they could be right. But Congressman Beyer has offered his party an opportunity to rise above partisanship and stand on principle."

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