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Now Is the Time for a Bold Pro-Democracy Agenda for America

As electoral reform advocates celebrate wins for automatic voter registration and restored voting rights, calls for Democrats to do "so much more to do to strengthen our democracy"

Virginia residents line up to vote in the pouring rain at Robious Middle School November 6, 2018 in Midlothian, Virginia.

Virginia residents line up to vote in the pouring rain at Robious Middle School Nov. 6, 2018 in Midlothian, Virginia.  (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

While supporters of pro-democratic voting reforms on Wednesday celebrated a number of key state-level wins on Election Day, the Democratic Party is being called upon to go much further by making voting rights a central issue going forward and embracing a slate of changes that would dramatically improve civic participation and end GOP suppression tactics.

Among the successes from Tuesday's ballot:

  • Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a measure which restores voting rights for 1.4 million state residents with past felony convictions. 
  • Michigan voters approved a measure enacting automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration.
  • Voters in Nevada also approved automatic voter registration.
  • In Maryland, voters supported a state constitutional amendment allowing same-day voter registration.

The outcomes, says the NYU School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, add up to "a massive win for democracy." But these changes still leave in place an electoral system—one plagued by long lines, voter suppression efforts, malfunctioning machines, Big Money, and partisan redistricting—badly in need of reform.

"Where does democracy go from here?" ask the Brennan Center's Zachary Roth and Michael Waldman. They continue:

The voters spoke loudly for change. Around 40 new House members took no corporate PAC money and vowed to fight for democracy reform. The House Democratic leadership has announced it would make such measures the first bill—H.R. 1. Its details are still being hashed out, but it likely will include automatic voter registration, small donor public campaign financing to curb the power of big money, and national redistricting standards. A separate bill will set standards to guard against cyberattacks. Perhaps the most important result from Tuesday is that we now have a Congress that appears to understand urgency of these issues, including many new lawmakers who explicitly ran on a democracy reform platform. Congress should make this its top priority.

Congress also must dramatically step up its oversight role. Its goal should not be to score political points against the administration, but to help get to the bottom of key issues like Russian meddling in the 2016 election, an unprecedented attack on our democracy that still lacks a full accounting. And with a shakeup at the Justice Department likely coming, as well as a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Congress should ensure that our systems of justice and law enforcement justice remain independent and free from political interference.

"Despite Tuesday's good news, we have so much more to do to strengthen our democracy," they conclude. "Let's get to work."

OtherWords editor Peter Certo urged Democrats to step up to that task by supporting "a host of radical pro-democracy reforms."

"In that they can take inspiration from a stunning movement in Florida, where voters re-enfranchised over 1 million of their neighbors with felony convictions. And from Michigan, Colorado, Utah, and Missouri, which all passed initiatives to support citizen-led redistricting. And from Maryland, Michigan, and Nevada, which all made voter registration easier," he wrote.

Offering his post-midterm advice to the Democratic leaders on Wednesday, Washington Post contributor Ronald A. Klain said they should make it a top priority to pass "a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act and reverse Republican voter-suppression efforts. The cause of democracy should not be carried by Democrats alone, but that is what it has come to. The greatest democracy in the world should not be the one where it is hardest to participate in the democratic process."

One way to make that easier would be making Election Day a federal holiday—an idea backed by more than half the country.

The calls come on the heels of the newly-launched Declaration for American Democracy's vow to "work collectively to create and pass a series of fundamental reforms to rebalance our moneyed political system, empower everyday Americans, ensure equal justice for all, protect the public's right to know, reduce barriers to participation in our elections, vigorously enforce voting laws, and fix our ethics laws."

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