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Here’s Beto’s Big Plan to Overhaul Our Election Laws

The Texas Democrat is going after gerrymandering to “ensure the makeup of districts reflects the preferences of voters statewide.”

by Rex Santus
Jun 5 2019, 4:28pm

Beto O’Rourke, occasionally chided as the 2020 candidate who’d rather stand on tables than talk about policy, is starting to turn that narrative around.

The Texas Democrat introduced an ambitious climate plan and an immigration plan in May and, now, a sweeping voting rights and government reform plan.

The central goal of Beto’s plan is to increase voter registration by 50 million voters to raise turnout to 65% of eligible voters in 2024. Back in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected, that number was below 61%. O’Rourke’s plan intends to build on H.R. 1, which the Democrat-controlled House passed in March to overhaul ethics rules and expand voting rights, though it has no chance of being implemented while Trump sits in the White House. Beto plans to do that by making voting more accessible, increasing the amount of eligible voters, and creating an electoral system where marginalized voters actually feel represented.

O’Rourke, a former House representative who catapulted to national fame after he led a surprisingly competitive Senate bid against Ted Cruz in 2018, wants to:

  • stop voter-roll purges (like in Georgia, where 500,000 names were erased in 2017 to the benefit of Republicans)
  • automatically register all eligible voters
  • extend early voting by at least two weeks
  • make Election Day a national holiday
  • abolish voter ID laws and allow voters to cast their ballots with a sworn statement.

To build voter trust, the plan would outlaw state governments from drawing legislative districts and instead give that authority to independent commissions. Beto is going after gerrymandering to “ensure the makeup of districts reflects the preferences of voters statewide.”

But O’Rourke’s plan goes far beyond your boilerplate Democratic calls for voting rights. The proposal pushes for a host of other changes, such as Supreme Court term limits, public financing for political campaigns, protecting the U.S. census, and a ban on PAC contributions to campaigns.

“It is long past time that the reality of voting in America lived up to our democratic ideals,” O’Rourke wrote in a blog post announcing the proposal.

“Voters, not dollars, should control our democracy.”

Term limits for SCOTUS

O’Rourke is calling for term limits for numerous political offices. The big standout here is that O’Rourke said he will call for legislation that restricts Supreme Court justices to 18 years on the nation’s highest court — a move that is certain to please liberals now that President Trump has stacked the court with conservative judges who have lifetime seats.

O’Rourke also wants to limit members of the House to six terms. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, is in her 17th term. On top of that, Beto seeks to ban all federal lawmakers from ever becoming lobbyists.

These changes would require a Constitutional amendment.

“If we want to truly have faith in those we serve , if we want our government to reflect the diversity and strength and creativity of our communities , and if we want to inspire a new generation of voters, then let’s help clear the way for new leaders to step up and bring their unique experiences, expertise, and energy to bear on the problems and opportunities we’re facing,” O’Rourke wrote in the announcement.

Getting corporate cash out of politics

In a bid to sweep corporate influence out of electoral politics in the U.S., O’Rourke calls for public financing for political campaigns. The federal government would match donations below $500 to political campaigns. All campaigns would have to disclose donations beyond $1,000 within 48 hours.

The reforms would also:

• Ban PAC contributions to campaigns;

• Require Google and Facebook to disclose sponsors on their platforms’ political ads;

• Require PACs to disclose all of their donors;

• Require public companies, big private companies, and government contractors to disclose all of their political contributions;

• Reduce contribution limits an individual donor can make to a political party (currently more than $2.5 million);

• Prohibit members of Congress from accepting donations from sectors regulated by committees they serve on.

O'Rourke is headed to Georgia for a town hall Wednesday evening, his first visit to the voting-rights battleground state since launching his campaign in mid-March.

Cover: Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke speaks at a Service Employees International Union forum on labor issues, Saturday, April 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)