My Turn: Ask candidates how they will fix our democracy

For the Monitor
Published: 2/7/2020 6:00:27 AM
Modified: 2/7/2020 6:00:15 AM

Next week, all eyes will turn to New Hampshire. As the first state to host a Democratic primary to determine the presidential nominee for the party, voters in our state will have an important voice in helping determine the direction of our great nation in the coming years.

While voters in the Granite State pride ourselves on our independence, we continue to face attempts to sway the debate. For months we have been bombarded with political ads in favor of candidates and opposing others. And many of these ads are paid for by entities with vague names and no details on who is actually funding them.

So far, outside organizations have flooded the primary election with $14 million in television advertisements, and that is just the beginning. Our democracy – where the person with the most money has the best chance – is clearly broken.

As the presidential candidates descend on New Hampshire for their last appeals to voters here, we must hear directly from the candidates about how they will fix our democracy to put the voices of our voters above the special interests and outsiders who meddle in our elections to gain an edge.

Despite the threats our democracy has faced in recent years – whether it’s presidential abuses of power, partisan gerrymandering, or undue influence of dark money and corporations – we have yet to see a real conversation and specific plans during the debates about how to put the power back in the hands of the people.

Importantly, there is already a solution that will reform our democracy and put the power back in the hands of the people. In March 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1, the For the People Act, which is a comprehensive package of much-needed reforms to fix our democracy. The bill, which was supported by our congressional representatives, Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster, would strengthen our voting and election laws, reform our campaign finance system and impose new ethics requirements. Specifically, to address the influence of wealthy donors and corporations, this bill would require super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make their donors public. It also strengthens oversight rules to ensure those who break our campaign finance laws are held accountable.

Another important fix to our democracy is ending partisan gerrymandering, which has been an issue that the New Hampshire Legislature has time and time again attempted to resolve. An analysis from New Hampshire Public Radio demonstrates that the way our gerrymandered districts have been drawn give the very Republicans who are charged with designing the maps an electoral advantage.

Last year, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have established an independent redistricting commission charged with drawing the political maps. To anyone this would be viewed as a clear conflict of interest, and to make matters worse New Hampshire has been blocked from joining the other 21 states with an independent process for developing these maps. The For the People Act would address this by requiring all states to have maps drawn by an independent redistricting commission and ban partisan gerrymandering.

New Hampshire voters deserve to have their voice heard in our democracy, but that is only possible if our system truly is free of manipulation and influence by the wealthiest donors. The next president of the United States will have an important role to play in rebuilding faith in our democratic institutions. Their top priority must be to bring the kind of change that will give the power back to the people.

I urge the people moderating the upcoming debate and town halls to prioritize a conversation about democracy reform, because voters deserve to understand which candidate will truly let their voice be heard.

(Paul Hodes represented New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007-2011.)

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