It's no surprise that Democrats in Congress rank better on democracy reform than their Republican counterparts, especially when progressive groups are keeping score. Over the last year, GOP members were largely opposed to Democratic efforts to get big money out of politics and expand access to the ballot box.
So the bipartisan chasm comes off as enormous in the first congressional scorecard produced by End Citizens United, a liberal political action committee that's focused mainly on shrinking money's influence over politics. And the report, released this week, suggests only rare and subtle degrees of disapproval for the blue team on Capitol Hill in 2019 — and only a few areas for faint praise of the red team.
All members were rated on whether they accepted contributions from corporate PACs. The 432 current House members were also scored on how they voted on the floor four times — including of course on HR 1, the comprehensive political process overhaul passed in March — and how many of five measures important to the group they cosponsored. Since the Senate took no votes on legislation connected to democracy reform, the senators in office last year were rated only on a quartet of co-sponsorships.
Staffing cutbacks, poor planning and inadequate outreach by the federal government all threaten an undercount of minority group members, the poor and rural Americans in the coming census, leaders of civil rights groups are warning Congress.
After failing a decade ago to count more than 1.5 million African-Americans and Latinos, as well as 50,000 American Indians and Native Alaskans, the Census Bureau's planned reduction of local offices and field workers for the enumeration this spring has sparked fears that the 2020 undercount will be even more significant — and with lasting consequences.
Such inaccuracies could result in several congressional seats being given to the wrong states, and billions of dollars in federal aid being wrongly allocated for the next decade, the civil rights advocates told a House panel on Thursday.
Here's something you don't see every day: Executives of three companies agreeing with the suggestion they should be under stronger oversight by Uncle Sam.
But that's exactly what happened Thursday, when representatives of the three companies that make more than 80 percent of the 350,000 voting machines used in the United States testified before Congress.
Just the appearance at one hearing by leaders of three competing businesses — Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Dominion Voting Systems of Denver and Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas — was in itself historic. Even more unusual was their willingness to embrace tighter federal regulation and oversight ahead of the election, which could provide them with some government cover if the presidential contest is marred by hackers once again.
Tracking the story of American democracy over the past decade has been a very complex undertaking, dominated by dispiriting accelerations of dysfunction but also punctuated by some developments meriting cautious optimism.
The Supreme Court opened the floodgates of money in politics, turned a blind eye to partisan gerrymandering and paved the way for dozens of measures making it harder to vote in places already marred by histories of political discrimination. Capitol Hill became more gridlocked by tribal partisan animus than ever, even when the topic was fixing the very system in which Congress is supposed to play a vibrant central role. And there's Donald Trump, who won the presidency in an election marked by unparalleled foreign interference and then took busting the norms of a democratic civil society to a whole new level.
At the same time, however, the ever more broken state of affairs in Washington was offset by successes in statehouses and city halls — and by the citizens themselves — at making democracy more equitable and productive for more people. Innovations in public financing of campaigns and election methods that reward consensus candidates were on the rise, while voting rights were returned to almost 2 million felons out of prison. Ballot initiatives and state courts moved against partisan power grabs in legislative mapmaking, allowing more people to pick their politicians, not the other way around.
Finally, the democracy reform movement itself built toward a critical mass of organizational muscle and funding strength. It even generated its own dedicated news site!
To get ready for the 2020s, when the debate over how to put the government more overtly back in the hands of the voters will be more urgent than ever, here's The Fulcrum's take on the top 10 stories about democracy's challenges from the decade now ending, in a somewhat rough chronological order.