Opinion

Campaign finance reform is essential | GUEST OPINION

BY U.S. REP. DEREK KILMER

This past Saturday, as I wrapped up my second town hall meeting of the week, I was again reminded of the power of citizen involvement in our democracy.

And yet, I couldn’t help but think of the work our country still must do to ensure all Americans have fair access to the ballot box and to ensure every citizen can play an active role in our government.

Folks, we’ve got work to do.

We know that, because just 13 years ago a town in Mississippi attempted to cancel an election rather than allow an African-American majority to be elected to their city council.

We know that because in the 2012 election, more than 5 million voters waited more than an hour to vote — and some ended up waiting more than five hours to cast their ballots and have their voices heard.

And we know that because, according to a recent study, in the last presidential campaign it took 3.7 million people making small contributions (of $200 or less) to President Obama and Governor Romney to equal the amount of money raised by just 32 Super PAC donors.

There are some clear steps Congress can take to make meaningful progress in addressing these issues.

First, Congress must pass a strong reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

In a 5-4 ruling last year, the Supreme Court struck down a section of the VRA that was specifically designed to ensure that when states and local governments with a history of discrimination are changing their voting laws, they aren’t disenfranchising voters.

I strongly disagreed with that ruling and am deeply troubled by taking a tool out of the toolbox that has successfully blocked more than 700 discriminatory voting changes between 1982 and 2006 alone.

That’s why I’m pushing for Congress to take up and pass H.R. 3899, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. This is a rare area where there is bipartisan agreement, and the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 was introduced with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. While this legislation isn’t perfect, I believe that it represents our best chance to counter voter disenfranchisement before the next election.

Second, Congress needs to pass comprehensive voting rights legislation that will make it easier for all Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Washington state’s electoral system should serve as a model for others in making voting more accessible for those that are unable to make it to the polls on Election Day.

I’ve cosponsored of H.R. 12, the Voter Empowerment Act, because

I believe we need to do more to help modernize our nation’s voter registration systems, strengthen the administration and management of voting systems, and ensure that all votes are being counted.

When we’re discussing ways to reform our electoral system, Congress should address the role of money in politics — particularly following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Congress should recognize something that the Supreme Court did not: Money isn’t speech and corporations are not people. To truly honor the belief that “We the people” are the ones who should decide elections, Congress must take up campaign finance reform.

Finally, Congress needs to make government work better for people.

For too long, leaders in our nation’s capital have been more interested in scoring political points than actually making progress for the American people. We’ve got to be willing to work together toward common sense solutions to our most significant challenges.

This November, Americans are going to go to the polls and exercise their constitutional right to determine who has the honor of representing them. Let’s make sure that when that happens, we have ensured that the rights of all Americans to have their votes counted and their voices heard.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer represents the Washington’s 6th District in Congress.

 

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