DEMOCRACY; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 4
(Senate - January 09, 2019)

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[Pages S107-S109]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, the most important words in our 
Constitution are the first three: ``We the People.'' With these three 
simple words, our Founders laid out the mission for our government; 
that is, a government to produce a form of legislation that reflects 
the will of the American people or, as Lincoln summarized it, a 
government of, by, and for the people.
  That mission is being corrupted and damaged in a significant and 
extensive fashion. It is being damaged with a goal of converting this 
vision of ``We the People'' to a government by and for the powerful and 
the privileged. That corruption, that fundamental corruption of our 
government, comes in many forms, but it certainly includes 
gerrymandering, voter suppression, voter intimidation, and dark money 
in our campaigns flooding our system with unidentified resources to 
serve the powerful and the privileged rather than the people.
  We in this Chamber, having taken an oath of allegiance to our 
Constitution, ought to be defending it, but we are not. The result is, 
we see many challenges facing our Nation unaddressed: stagnant wages 
and soaring income inequality, huge wealth inequality; skyrocketing 
healthcare costs; unaffordable higher education and homeownership; rent 
so high they drive people to live in tents; catastrophic climate chaos 
wreaking havoc on our planet with uncontrolled carbon pollution.
  We have been paralyzed on these issues because of this corruption of 
our Constitution, because of the gerrymandering, because of the voter 
suppression intimidation, because of the dark money. It has allowed the 
hijacking of our Constitution, and we need to end it. It has been 
hijacked by corporate and Wall Street executives swimming in 
recordbreaking profits and trillion-dollar tax breaks, shuttering 
American factories and shipping jobs overseas. It has been hijacked by 
fossil fuel barons who exhibit a greed for profits that trumps the 
direct damage--or concern about the direct damage they are inflicting 
on our beautiful blue-green planet. It has been hijacked by cabals of 
shadowy organizations, using vast sums of dark money, no identified 
source, to influence and buy elections, undermining our institutions at 
every level and driving massive cynicism among our youth.
  Our youth look at our government, and they see those beautiful words: 
``We the People,'' and then they see the corruption, the corruption 
this body is doing nothing to address--not the gerrymandering, not the 
voter suppression, not the dark money. It is time to change that.
  I have laid out a blueprint for our ``we the people'' democracy. I 
unveiled this document last week. I am happy to provide copies to 
anyone. It is available on the web. It is a blueprint for restoring our 
democracy that takes on the corrupting influence of dark money, takes 
on the corrupting influence of gerrymandering, takes on the corruption 
of voter suppression to ensure equal representation for every American.
  Let's start by looking at dark money. We need to pass Senator Udall's 
constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United and thereby end 
the corruption of the unlimited dark money.
  According to one analysis, the top 15 dark money groups in America 
has spent over $600 million on campaign-related activities in the last 
few years. That is just the top 15 groups, writing check after check to 
drown out the voice of the people. It is kind of like the dark money is 
a stadium sound system cranked up to the top volume so voices and 
concerns of millions of ordinary Americans are wiped out, unheard, 
unlistened to; thus, driving decisions of this body in favor of the 
powerful instead of the people.
  It is why we need to give Congress the ability to set reasonable 
limits on campaign spending and donations through that constitutional 
amendment. That is why we need to increase transparency on all money in 
the campaign system through Senator Whitehouse's DISCLOSE Act. His act 
calls for robust disclosure for corporate union, PACs, 501(c)(3)s that 
contribute over $10,000. It is why we need transparency through Senator 
Klobuchar's Honest Ads Act, which addresses the transparency of online 
ads, which are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our dialogue over 
campaigns in this country, the social media side. It requires those who 
purchase and publish those online ads to publicly disclose their 
  Thomas Jefferson laid out how important an equal distribution of 
power is among the voters. He called it his equal voice principle, and 
he said this: ``[A] government is republican in proportion as every 
member composing it has his equal voice in the direction of its 
concerns''--equal voice. He said in this letter, after he was 
President, that if we lose this, which he called the mother principle 
of our democracy, we would not have laws that reflect the will of the 

  So here we are with the mother principle--a distribution of power 
among voters, a distribution of voice among voters. That, as the 
securing factor for government, reflects the will of the people.
  This is in complete opposition to the concentration of power through 
Citizens United.
  Let us turn to the corruption from gerrymandering. Now, there is a 
bit of a challenge to define what gerrymandering is, but let's try 
putting it this way: the drawing of funny-shaped districts in order to 
unbalance fair representation of voters in a State.
  Now, here are some of the warning signs if you want to say it is 
gerrymandered. First, look to the districts and see if they are of 
funny shapes like these--like Nebraska, like the Fifth Congressional 
District in Florida, like the Seventh Congressional District in 
Pennsylvania, like the Maryland Third Congressional District, like the 
North Carolina First District, and the Texas Thirty-third District--
blue States, red States, all exhibiting varieties of gerrymandering.
  Another way to look at gerrymandering is to look at an imbalance in 
wasted votes. That is, you take the number of votes required to elect 
someone in a particular congressional district and add up the surplus 
of those votes, and you add those up on the Democratic side and you add 
those up on the Republican side, and if there is a huge imbalance in 
the wasted votes, then probably these districts have been drawn to 
unbalance fair representation for people in the State.
  A third way to look at gerrymandering is to look at whether the 
congressional representation in the House of Representatives is 
proportional to the popular vote totals in a State.
  So those three things are warning signs.
  How should this be addressed? It should be addressed through having 
national standards for independent redistricting commissions so that 
the citizens of the United States across the entire United States get 
fair representation in Congress and for the ridding of gerrymandering 
in the United States of America.
  In 2016, North Carolina Republicans had 53 percent of the State's 
popular vote in House races but 77 percent of the congressional seats. 
That is a sign of gerrymandering. The same year, Pennsylvania Democrats 
won 48 percent of the popular vote in their State but only had 27 
percent of the House seats.
  So these are signs of a rigged system, and if you want to drive 
cynicism, keep a rigged system.
  The House of Representatives is supposed to stand for equal 
representation for people, not for a biased, corrupted, rigged system 
that we get from gerrymandering.
  So we need to take the power for redistricting out of the hands of 

[[Page S108]]

elected officials and put it in the hands of independent commissions to 
draw fair, competitive congressional districts to truly reflect the 
voters' voices.
  Now, as for that Pennsylvania gerrymandered seat that I referred to, 
after the 2016 election, the State supreme court stepped in and redrew 
the district lines to make them more fair and representative.
  So what happened? Let's compare 2016 to 2018.
  In 2016, you had the Democrats receiving 48 percent of the popular 
vote and 27 percent of the congressional districts, a gap of more than 
20 percent. After the redrawing, you had Democrats receiving 53 percent 
of the popular vote across the State and winning 50 percent of the 
contested seats. So a gap of 21 percent goes down to a gap of just 3 
percent. That is a sign that the State has been more fairly drawn to 
reflect the distribution of voters. It shows that the voters are being 
heard and that the corruption of gerrymandering is being ended. But it 
shouldn't just be ended in Pennsylvania. It should be ended across the 
  Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has punted on gerrymandering. In fact, it 
has been at the heart of each of these three corrupting practices: 
unleashing dark money through Citizens United; striking down the Voting 
Rights Act of 1965, allowing an unlimited set of strategies--a huge set 
of strategies--for voter suppression and voter intimidation; and never 
taking on the issue of gerrymandering.
  Maybe the U.S. Supreme Court should read the Constitution and realize 
what Jefferson was talking about and realize that it is their job to 
defend the integrity of the United States of America and take on these 
corrupting forces that they themselves have unleashed in two instances 
and failed to take on in the third.
  Well, voter suppression and voter intimidation are certainly alive 
and well as corrupting forces. That is why the Blueprint for Democracy 
calls for the passage of Senator Leahy's Voting Rights Advancement Act. 
The bill would restore and modernize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 
which the Supreme Court tore down in 2013 with their decision in Shelby 
County v. Holder.
  Now, realize that the Voting Rights Act reauthorization had vast 
bipartisan support here in the Senate. This wasn't a partisan bill. The 
voting right is the fundamental foundation of our democratic republic, 
and it had broad bipartisan support, as it should. But the Supreme 
Court, in the interest of the powerful and privileged, tore down--they 
are no longer the defenders of the vision of our Constitution but the 
destroyers of the ``we the people'' vision of our Constitution. That 
should concern every Member in this body.
  We have seen rampant voter suppression in our national elections used 
to block entire groups of people from exercising their constitutional 
rights at the ballot box.
  Just this last November, we saw thousands of Native Americans living 
on Tribal reserves in North Dakota kept from casting a ballot. In 
Georgia, we saw the former secretary of state, who was running for 
Governor, attempt to block 53,000 Georgians, predominantly African 
Americans, from voting because of what were described as minor clerical 
inconsistencies. We saw thousands of Ohio voters purged from voting 
rolls on the order of the secretary of state of Ohio, and done so in a 
way disproportionately benefiting one party over the other.
  That is just scratching the surface of the list of deplorable schemes 
to disenfranchise American voters.
  There was one positive development that was in Florida, where Florida 
restored the ability of felons to vote after they have served their 
  Now, this process of taking away the ability of felons to vote has a 
deep, deep history of racism in our country. It was used after the 
Civil War to disenfranchise Black Americans so that White Americans 
could control areas that were predominantly African American.
  So this use of the felon disenfranchisement--failure to restore the 
right to vote after you have served your sentence--is something that 
has to be put away, and Florida set a great example in doing so.
  There is much more that we can do. We can have a polling place 
protection act, because the manipulation of polling places is just an 
irresistible strategy for election clerks. They move the polling 
places. They cut the hours of polling. Disinformation is put out about 
where they are. You have a process where some polling places that serve 
predominantly one community that may vote primarily on one party 
suddenly don't have enough clerks or enough voting machines so they 
have long lines here and short lines there to warp the outcome of an 
  So how about a polling place protection act? Isn't that something 
Democrats and Republicans can come together and do?
  How about predatory purging of voter lists, where you analyze the 
voting list and decide for rules on purging voters in order to 
disproportionately favor one party over the other? Why not have 
standard policies across the country so that purging in a predatory 
partisan fashion is done away with? Shouldn't that be something on 
which Democrats and Republicans can come together and defend the 
integrity of American elections?
  How about requiring paper ballots so that every election can be 
recounted? I always heard about these electronic voting machines with 
no paper ballots. Now, out in Oregon, we insist on paper ballots. We 
want people to have confidence that the election has not been messed 
with, that the voting machines have not been hacked.
  I remember listening to a radio news story where a person went in and 
hacked the voting machine while they were on the radio with the 
reporter and changed the vote totals.
  So shouldn't we require paper ballots that can be recounted to give 
confidence in America that the vote is not being hacked? Isn't that 
something that Democrats and Republicans can come together to support? 
Isn't it something that helps to make sure that foreign agents--Russian 
agents, Chinese agents, who knows whom--are not trying to hack our 
  While we are at it, how about a national standard for early voting to 
ensure that people have the flexibility to come to the polls, to make 
sure the hours are not manipulated in a fashion to try to favor one 
party over the other.
  Better yet, how about Senator Wyden's Vote By Mail Act? In Oregon, we 
have a special affection for this. Back when I was first running for 
the Oregon House of Representatives 20 years ago, in my first election, 
half the people of Oregon voted by mail and half at the polls, and I 
started going door to door to campaign, and I didn't really like this 
whole vote-by-mail idea because I felt it was important for the 
community to do something together on election day.
  As I knocked on one door after another, one senior after another 
said: No, I really love this ability to vote by mail, because if it is 
rainy or icy in November, if there is snow that makes it hard to get to 
the polling place, it is no problem.
  They said: And moreover, I really love to be at the kitchen table 
with my children or with my grandchildren and have the ability, then, 
to talk with them about these issues as we vote and inculcate them with 
the civic responsibility of voting.
  Another said: You know, here in Oregon we have initiatives that can 
be very complicated. I love to sit at my kitchen table and study these 
initiatives and vote.
  So I realized how popular it was. So there it was--vote by mail, a 
very important contribution to the possibility of high integrity in 
elections of the United States of America.
  This last November, we had nationwide about 47 percent of the 
eligible adults voting--about 47 percent. That was better than 2014, 
when we had 37 percent. So that is pretty good--47 percent.
  In Oregon, with vote by mail, we had 68 percent of the eligible 
adults voting--20 percent over the national standard. So that gives you 
a little sense of how automatic voter registration and vote by mail can 
make a difference in enabling people to fully participate.
  If you believe in the vision of a democratic republic, don't you want 
to be on the side of voter engagement--not voter intimidation, not 
voter suppression?

[[Page S109]]

  A fourth area is equal representation. So we have had a number of 
elections where we created a discrepancy between the popular vote and 
the outcome for President--another factor driving citizens. The whole 
electoral college was set up in a world in which communication was very 
difficult. It might take weeks to get the votes to the Capitol, but 
that is not the world we live in any longer.
  So isn't it time to go to a direct vote?
  Back in the 2000 election, 48 percent of the voters picked Al Gore 
for President, and that was a majority, but we had 8 years of George 
  The electoral college is antiquated--an antiquated idea based on a 
historical factor of communication that no longer exists.
  So let's move to direct vote, either through the national popular 
vote, which can be done State by State by State by sending their 
electoral votes to the candidate who wins the majority, or through a 
constitutional amendment.
  And while we are at it, let's give voting representation in the House 
and Senate to the 4 million people who currently are American citizens 
who do not have a vote in the Presidential election.
  While we are at it, let's give voting representation in the House and 
Senate to the 4 million people who currently are American citizens who 
do not have a vote in the House or Senate. For the people of Puerto 
Rico, Guam, a number of other Territories, and the Virgin Islands, 
shouldn't there at least be one person in this Chamber representing 
  I went down to Puerto Rico 8 months after the big hurricane to look 
at the restoration, and the restoration program was horrific. I came 
away thinking, if there was somebody who stood in this Chamber with a 
vote or in the House Chamber with a vote and could speak to the abysmal 
restoration of infrastructure after that hurricane, it would not have 
been such a disaster. We would all have listened and responded and 
helped. But there was nobody here that represented them. A number of us 
tried to carry their message, their plea, but it is different than 
having somebody who carries a vote.
  So let's figure out a system--some system. No system will satisfy 
everyone, but give at least a vote in the Senate and a vote in the 
House for the portion of the population of those American citizens who 
do not have a vote.
  So our constitutional system is in very deep trouble. When I came 
into political life we had a Voting Rights Act that had taken on the 
issue of voter intimidation and voter suppression. We don't have it 
today, thanks to the Supreme Court. Corruption is inhabiting our ``we 
the people'' Constitution.
  When I came in we had a system that was much more transparent with 
people making donations to candidates, and today we have vast dark 
money corrupting the system.
  Gerrymandering has been with us for a long time. Isn't it time that 
we address that? Shouldn't it be a situation in which voters pick their 
representatives, not representatives picking their voters? Isn't it 
time to address a national popular vote?
  We have allowed so much to happen. We haven't pushed back the failure 
of the Supreme Court to defend our Constitution. When they struck down 
the Voting Rights Act, they said Congress can repass another one. But 
have we done so? Have we had a vote on the floor of the Senate since 
the Voting Rights Act was struck down? Do we have bipartisan buy-in 
that it is our responsibility to protect voters to have a fair process? 
If not, why not? It is way past time. So let each of us ponder the 
vision of our Constitution--the ``we the people'' vision of our 
Constitution. Let's remember that we took an oath to honor this vision 
and that we are failing. Now, in recognition of that, let's come 
together--Democrats and Republicans, House Members and Senate Members--
and take on this vast corruption that is destroying the fundamental 
vision on which our Nation was founded--a vision I love, a vision that 
will produce laws by and for the people, a vision that produces laws 
the reflect, as Thomas Jefferson said, the will of the people.
  Thank you, Mr. President.