Klobuchar picks Georgia to do what rivals haven’t: Lean in to democracy reform agenda
A top issue on the democracy reform agenda — protecting elections against both disinformation and cyber hacking — is getting some unusual attention this week in the Democratic presidential campaign.
Amy Klobuchar, arguably at the top of the second tier of candidates given her rising support in Iowa, went to Atlanta on Monday to highlight her efforts in the Senate to enhance election security and to unveil some additional proposals.
The choice of location made sense for two reasons. She and nine other Democrats will meet in the city Wednesday night for their latest in a series of debates where the governing system's problems have so far received short shrift. And Georgia has emerged as the most prominent state where bolstering voting rights and election integrity have become a top priority of the Democratic establishment.
The Minnesota senator, who's the top Democrat on the committee with jurisdiction over elections, has done more than most of her presidential rivals to prioritize fixing the voting system's vulnerabilities. This summer she issued a roster of the first 100 things she would do as president, and "prioritize cybersecurity and protect our elections" was No. 7.
In Atlanta, she sought to highlight her work on those issues by convening a roundtable with experts from the ACLU, the state Democratic Party and other groups.
After reiterating proposals she's pushed so far, Klobuchar vowed that as president she would work to prohibit states from culling from their voter rolls people who have not cast ballots in recent elections. This has become a flashpoint issue in Georgia, where state officials have begun plans to purge more than 300,000 registrations before the state's presidential primary on March 24.
She also said she'd push legislation outlawing exact-match standards, in which states require voter registration documents to reflect precisely the information on other government identification.
Georgia's law to this effect was among the reasons why thousands of people were turned away from the polls last year, when Democrat Stacey Abrams lost her bid to become the nation's first black female governor by the narrowest of margins. The statute, disputes over absentee and provisional ballots, and unforeseen delays at polling sites have triggered a series of federal lawsuits. Gov. Brian Kemp, who defeated Abrams while serving as the state's top election official, and other Republican officials maintain that everything civil rights groups complain about was done in the name of preventing voter fraud.
With an average of 5 percent support in recent polls, Klobuchar has risen to fifth in Iowa, where the first presidential voting will take place at the Feb. 3 caucuses. She is positioning herself mainly as a centrist who is more experienced than Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and more vibrant than former Vice President Joe Biden.
In Atlanta, she talked about a package of proposals her campaign issued later in the day: It includes automatically registering American teenagers on their 18th birthdays, making Election Day a federal holiday, and overhauling the Federal Election Commission to boost its powers and ease its governing structure.
At the heart of her plan to combat disinformation is passage of the so-called Honest Ads Act, her bill with Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to mandate the disclosure of who pays for political advertising online. It has an equal number of supporters from each party in the House but no vote has been scheduled, and if it passes there it looks doomed to oblivion in the Senate thanks to the election reform policy roadblock erected by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Klobuchar said as president she'd revive that bill, and also would push legislation to bar foreign nationals from buying election ads or from being involved in deciding how American political action committees spend their money.
On election security, she used her time in Atlanta to underscore her work to get as much money in the coming budget as possible for grants to help the states prevent cyber attacks and modernize their voting equipment before next November.
She worked to get 36 others in her caucus to go on record Monday in favor of appropriating $600 million for the states and $16 million for the Election Assistance Commission — ideally in the stopgap funding bill on tap to be assembled this week, but if not then in the budget package that must follow. The Senate bill, which McConnell agreed to back after months of resistance, calls for only fractions of those amounts.
The other five Democratic senators running for president all signed the letter: Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
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In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.