Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke proposed a sweeping and bold package of political process changes on Wednesday designed to make voting easier, reduce money's influence in elections and increase governmental ethics.
His plan includes such democracy reform mainstream ideas as establishing Election Day voter registration as the national standard, but also outside-the-box proposals like setting term limits for Supreme Court justices and banning political action committees from giving to campaigns.
He said his ultimate goals were to add 50 million Americans to the voter rolls and increase turnout to a record 65 percent. But, more immediately, his clear objective was to make news on a matter of policy substance in order to boost his candidacy, which got off to a high-wattage start but has recently flagged thanks to a narrative that he's much more about style than substance.
His plan for "rebuilding confidence in our democracy" is actually the fifth policy rollout of the campaign. Others have included proposals for combatting climate change and revamping immigration law.
The O'Rourke proposal also further elevates the role of the democracy reform movement in the early stages of the presidential campaign, in which most of the two dozen Democratic candidates have spoken in general terms about the need to "fix the system" without detailing specifics or making much of the issue in their stump speeches and town halls. The other prominent exception has been Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has emphasized her plan to give every adult a taxpayer-funded voucher worth $600 to donate to federal candidates – but only those who forgo any contribution larger than $200.
Among the highlights of the former Texas congressman's plan:
- Extend same-day voter registration to every state (20 plus the District of Columbia now have it) and automatically register people when they interact with government.
- Encourage more people to run and reduce gridlock by imposing limits of six terms (12 years) for House member, two terms (12 years) for senators and 18-year terms for Supreme Court justices.
- Increase turnout by 35 million votes by making Election Day a national holiday, allowing people to vote by mail and extending early voting. That would amount to a 20 percent increase from the 138 million Americans who voted in the 2016 presidential election.
- His plan also includes provisions to encourage more young people to vote, protect the voting process from being invaded by foreign interests and support low-dollar campaign contributions – by providing matching funds for contributions up to $500 and making them tax deductible.
O'Rourke was planning to highlight the plan at a town hall Wednesday night in Atlanta in partnership with the New Georgia Project Action Fund, an effort to engage more voters in the state that's spearheaded by Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the governor's race last year.