In this tumultuous election year, little attention has focused on the groundswell of support for political reform across grass-roots America. Beyond Bernie Sanders’s call for a political revolution, a broad array of state-level citizen movements are pressing for reforms against Citizens United, gerrymandering and campaign mega-donors to give average voters more voice, make elections more competitive, and ease gridlock in Congress. This populist backlash is in reaction to two monumental developments in 2010: the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling authorizing unlimited corporate campaign donations, and a Republican strategy to rig congressional districts. Together, they have changed the dynamics of American politics. That January, Justice John Paul Stevens warned in his dissent that Citizens United would “unleash the floodgates” of corporate money into political campaigns, and so it has. The overall funding flood this year is expected to surpass the record of $7 billion spent in 2012. Later in 2010, the Republican Party’s “Redmap” strategy won the party control of enough state governments to gerrymander congressional districts across the nation the following year. One result: In the 2014 elections, Republicans won 50.7 percent of the popular vote and reaped a 59-seat majority. Now, with Congress often gridlocked by Republicans from those safe districts, the initiative on reform has shifted to the states. Insurgency has spread beyond California and New York to unlikely Republican bastions like Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska and South Dakota.
At this point, 17 states have become reform battlegrounds. In six, lawsuits are challenging racial or partisan gerrymandering, and in five more, that goal is being pursued by popular movements, state governors or legislative bodies. This summer, federal courts have ruled in favor of suits seeking to strike down strict photo-identification requirements in Texas, North Carolina and North Dakota. The courts found that the requirements discriminated against minorities, and often seniors and students. Other citizen lawsuits have won restoration of early voting days in Ohio and straight-ticket voting for Michigan.
South Dakota and Washington State are holding referendums on proposals for more transparent elections; similar petition drives fell just short of success in Arizona and Idaho. This year, reformers in California, New York and Washington State have been mustering votes to press Congress to control campaign funding and ban corporate campaign contributions.
In the pushback against Citizens United, 17 states and more than 680 local governments have appealed to Congress for a constitutional amendment, either through a letter to Congress, referendums, legislative resolutions, city council votes or collective letters from state lawmakers. In the most prominent case, California’s 18 million registered voters get to vote in November on whether to instruct their 55-member congressional delegation to “use all of their constitutional authority” to overturn Citizens United. Washington State is holding a similar referendum.
Full Article: Can the States Save American Democracy? – The New York Times.