Imagine legislation that would require big-time political campaign organizations like super PACs to disclose the names of major donors. Or what about if this same measure before Congress made Election Day a federal holiday? Or created a mechanism wherein citizens were automatically registered to vote? And what if, to top it all off, that bill required candidates for the nation’s highest office to release at least 10 years of tax returns?
Well, you don’t have to imagine. The bill in question is H.R. 1 and it’s headed for approval this week in the U.S. House of Representatives. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows exactly what to make of such new-fangled ideas touted by House Democrats, like encouraging average people to vote and revealing so-called “dark money” sources that give special interests an out-sized advantage in deciding who holds political office. He made it clear at a press conference this week that there is no way such ideas were going to find their way to the Senate floor. Not while he was in charge. “What is the problem we’re trying to solve here?” Mr. McConnell observed to reporters. “People are flooding to the polls.”
Flooding? Apparently, in Kentucky, it’s regarded as a flood when half the potential voters stay home: While the 2018 midterm elections did record an unusually high turnout by U.S. standards (far surpassing 2014’s 36.7 percent turnout, which marked a 72-year low), it was still only 49.3 percent of eligible voters. Most developed countries do much better. Pew Research Center last year pegged U.S. voter turnout at 26th among 32 democratic nations, trailing such countries as Spain, Canada, Greece, Israel and Estonia. Estonia!
So if the bill is so unnecessary, why not let senators vote on it? Well, that’s exactly the kind of question that makes no sense in the Alternative Fact-a-verse of Senator McConnell, who recently did promise to let another reform initiative get action on the floor. That would be the Green New Deal, the non-binding anti-climate change proposal touted by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that Republicans find so distasteful. So in the up-is-down, down-is-up world of the U.S. Senate, you get to vote on bills that haven’t got a prayer of passage when Republicans hold the majority, but legislation that might actually pass on a bipartisan basis? Then it’s time to bar the door.
How bizarre is that? The notion that states are not disenfranchising voters right now is ludicrous and disproven by what happened in North Carolina where they are having a “redo” for the 9th Congressional District race (including a hastily-arranged May 14 primary) because of rampant voter fraud involving absentee ballot forms collected by a Republican operative who then filled them out and turned them in. How threatened is Mr. McConnell by an Election Day holiday or disclosure of PAC donors who kick in $10,000 or more? He’s called H.R. 1 a “Democrat Politician Protection Act,” which suggests transparency in campaign finance is anathema to Republicans.
It’s fair to observe that Democratic presidential candidates are, generally speaking, advantaged when voter turnout is high. But shouldn’t all Americans want high voter participation rates anyway? If politicians are going to make grand statements about bringing people together finding common cause, surely Step 1 is to have the greatest possible number supporting their favored candidates for office. (And, of course, they should be making those choices from a factual basis and not as the result of a foreign country with hostile intent manipulating public opinion, but that’s a matter for another day). Democracy with a small-d is reinforced the more people are involved in decision-making.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing wrong with quibbling over the details of H.R. 1 and whether some provisions are in conflict with the First Amendment. Even some liberal groups are concerned about how the Federal Election Commission might determine whether a non-profit’s views represented “campaign-related speech.” But Mr. McConnell isn’t interested in having that debate. He’s interested in cutting off the Democrats’ top priority at the knees and preserving such current irregularities as voter-roll purges that have traditionally hurt minorities who don’t necessarily show up to vote in every election. He’s even pooh-poohed an Election Day national holiday. That’s pretty shameful even by Mitch McConnell standards. Perhaps next time they’ll call it the “Green Anti-Corruption Act,” have Ms. Ocasio-Cortez speak on its behalf and wait for the majority leader to bite.