States will get $400 million to make voting in the coronavirus presidential election easier and safer, but with almost no strings attached, under the massive economic recovery package unveiled Wednesday.
The pot of money in the nearly $2 trillion stimulus deal, on a fast track to pass the Senate by day's end with the House vote timetable uncertain, is the result of an unusually intense and coordinated lobbying campaign by some of the major players in the democracy reform movement.
While celebrating a rare victory for one of their causes, some groups nonetheless said they would seek much more money in what's likely to be another pandemic response package from Congress this spring. These groups warned the initial infusion of cash will prove insufficient to prevent justifiable anxiety about voting this fall, and that an absence of any legislative mandates will allow too much of the grant money to get spent unwisely.
Ten years ago exactly — on Jan. 21, 2010 — the Supreme Court gave the green light to unlimited political expenditures by corporations, labor unions and nonprofit groups. The decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which said curbs on such spending violated the First Amendment, fundamentally changed the way elections are financed today.
A decade later the majority opinion in Citizens United is labeled, more often than any other single thing, as the ultimate antagonist of the democracy reform movement. The ruling has become so infamous it's used as shorthand for a campaign financing system that gives lopsided political advantage to the wealthiest over everyday citizens, including for reasons that have nothing to do with that case. That said, however, the decision has permitted groups that are not affiliated with any candidate or political party to pour almost $4.5 billion into the subsequent campaigns for president and Congress — an astonishing six times the total for all such independent expenditures in the two previous decades.
The 10-year anniversary has campaign finance experts all along the ideological spectrum reflecting on what the decision has meant for American politics, and what changes to laws and regulations might withstand court challenges and limit the impact of Citizens United in the decade ahead — on the assumption the ruling is on the books for at least that much longer.
Republicans hoping to limit the newly restored voting rights of convicted felons in Florida have won the backing of the state Supreme Court. But it's really just a victory in the court of public opinion, because the justices issued only an advisory opinion Thursday while the real decision is up to the federal courts.
At issue is a law passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature last year to implement a state constitutional amendment approved in 2018 with the support of almost two-thirds of the electorate, restoring voting rights to about 1.4 million Floridians with criminal records.
It is the largest single expansion of voting rights in the country since 18-year-olds got the constitutional right to cast ballots half a century ago. But its reach could be sharply limited if Republicans successfully defend the financial curbs they want to impose.
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.