Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren is proposing a sweeping overhaul of federal elections that would mandate tougher security standards, automatic voter registration, end gerrymandering and make Election Day a national holiday. But the Massachusetts senator’s plan will almost certainly face backlash from local election officials wary of federal interference and conservatives questioning its legality.
The plan is an example of both Warren’s continued reliance on policy proposals to fuel her modest rise in the polls, and her willingness to be bolder than most of the Democratic presidential field when it comes to reforming the political process.
Warren’s plan, she wrote in a Medium post, would mandate “state-of-the-art equipment and require adoption of a uniform federal ballot” for federal elections, rather than the state-by-state ― or even locality-by-locality ― patchwork of voting machines and ballot designs that exist today.
“We have 8,000 election jurisdictions running elections,” Warren writes. “Problems with resources, malfeasance, and errors are rampant. No more. We will have federal standards to ensure everyone can vote.”
Warren’s plan would also mandate same-day voter registration, early voting, the option to vote by mail and automatic voter registration. The federal government, Warren concedes, does not have the power to mandate reforms in state and local elections, but she would provide full federal funding for states to make reforms. States with higher levels of voter turnout, including across age, race and gender groups, would get bonus payments.
And Warren would mandate the use of independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional districts and prevent gerrymandering.
Her plan would also create a Secure Democracy Administration, which would replace the existing Election Assistance Commission. The administration would monitor states’ implementation of the reforms, and if states fail to meet them, the administration would have “the authority to seek a court order to step in and guarantee that every voter has access to the polls unless or until the state shows its intent to fully comply with federal law.”
“The right to vote is a fundamental right, and we will not let racist and corrupt politicians undermine it or our democracy,” Warren writes.
Warren estimates her reforms would cost $20 billion over the next decade. She would pay for them with revenue from her proposed 2% tax on all assets over $50 million and 3% tax on assets over $1 billion.
The proposals are likely to bet met with resistance from local election officials, many of whom are wary of federal interference. Alongside the plan, Warren’s campaign released a letter from six constitutional law professors noting the Constitution gives Congress the power to choose the “times, places and manner” of federal elections.
“The Supreme Court has historically — and recently — upheld a wide range of congressional action that regulates federal elections, even when that regulation intrudes upon what would otherwise be areas of state sovereignty,” the professors wrote.
Other 2020 presidential candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, have also unveiled plans for election reforms.