In its first act next January, the new House is scheduled to take up the most important civil rights bill in half a century. The bill signals a profoundly comprehensive understanding of the flaws that have evolved within our democracy. That it is scheduled first screams a recognition that these flaws must be fixed first, if we’re to have a Congress that is free to do the other critically important work that Congress must do. But that the bill is all but invisible to anyone outside the beltway signals the most important gap left in this most important fight to make representative democracy in America possible — if not again, then finally. The bill — denominated H.R. 1 — is a radically comprehensive and practical fix to all but one of the critical failures of our evolved system of representative democracy. Crafted primarily by Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), the bill recognizes that there are multiple flaws within our democracy and that these flaws must be addressed together.
H.R. 1 would establish, for the first time in American history, a system to fund congressional campaigns through small-dollar matching funds; thus would it liberate members of Congress from dependence on large private funders. The bill would brilliantly leverage Congress’s constitutional authority to force states to end partisan gerrymandering by adopting nonpartisan redistricting commissions — an obviously better solution than anything the Supreme Court could ever craft. It would trigger the automatic registration of voters nationally. It would restore the Voting Rights Act, and secure critical protections to assure an equal freedom to vote, by encouraging early voting and modernization of voting technology. And the bill would impose strict new regulations on Congress itself, slowing the revolving door and strengthening conflict of interest rules, to keep legislators focused on their constituents, not distracted by their own personal interest. (Left untouched is the fundamental distortion produced by the winner-take-all system for allocating electors in the electoral college, though until there is judicial recognition of the equal protection flaws within that system, Congress could well believe it lacks the power to step in.)