Beto O’Rourke is proposing term limits for Supreme Court justices and members of Congress and far-reaching new restrictions on donations from wealthy individuals and corporations as part of an overhaul of election laws that his presidential campaign unveiled Wednesday.
The plan from the Democratic former congressman from Texas also seeks to dramatically increase voting access through steps that include automatic and same-day registration and expanded early voting – and turning Election Day into a national holiday.
The proposal sets high targets: 65% voter turnout in 2024, with 50 million more people registered to vote and 35 million more ballots cast. Turnout in 2016, the last presidential election year, was 61%, according to the Pew Research Center.
“If we are to reclaim our democracy, we must draw people back into the political process, expand the franchise, and guarantee that every voice counts,” O’Rourke’s campaign says in the five-page plan.
His campaign released the proposal as he begins two days of campaigning in Georgia – where Democrats believe strict restrictions on voting access enacted by the GOP-led state government cost the party’s nominee, Stacey Abrams, the governor’s race last year.
O’Rourke, who campaigned in a Texas US Senate race last year on a pledge to serve no more than two terms, is calling for members of the House to be limited to six two-year terms and senators to be restricted to two six-year terms. Such restrictions would require a constitutional amendment.
He is also proposing to limit justices’ tenure on the Supreme Court to 18 years, after which they could serve on a federal appellate court.
Former lawmakers and their senior staffers would face a waiting period of at least six years before they could become lobbyists.
O’Rourke’s plan, which would build on H.R. 1, a sweeping anti-corruption measure passed by the Democratic-controlled House in March, also would strip state legislatures of their power to draw legislative districts, handing that authority to independent commissions instead in a bid to eliminate partisan gerrymandering.
It includes a notable call to “to ensure the make up of districts reflects the preferences of voters statewide.” Such a requirement would benefit Democrats, whose voters are concentrated in urban areas. The party routinely earns a larger share of the overall vote statewide in legislative races than the number of seats it actually wins.
“If you’re going to propose big, bold ideas on things like drug prices or climate change, you have to tell people how you’re going to fix the system to make that happen. And this proposal is a really big set of policies to do just that,” said Sam Berger, the vice president for democracy and government reform at the Democratic think tank Center for American Progress. Berger spoke with O’Rourke’s campaign as the plan was being drafted and reviewed it after it had been completed.
The plan would turn O’Rourke’s signature campaign pledge – refusing donations from political action committees – into a national mandate.
It would also restrict other vehicles for wealthy individuals and corporations to funnel money to political interests, setting a $2,000 limit for contributions to issue PACs, inaugural committees and post-retirement foundations.
PACs would have to disclose every donation they receive. Public companies, large private corporations and government contractors would have to disclose their political contributions. And lawmakers would have to turn away donations from companies that are regulated by committees on which those lawmakers sit.
O’Rourke’s plan would establish public financing for campaigns, matching donations of up to $500 each – a move that would give candidates a strong incentive to court small-dollar donors. Campaigns would have to disclose donations of $1,000 or more within 48 hours. And individuals would face lower limits on contributions to state and national political parties.
Online platforms – such as Google and Facebook – would have to disclose the sponsors of political ads on their sites.
O’Rourke’s plan also calls for federal funding for election security measures – including paper balloting and “risk-limiting” audits.
It would remove the question President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to add to the census, asking whether respondents are US citizens – which O’Rourke’s proposal calls “a brazen attempt to discourage people from being counted.”
His plan aims to halt voter roll purges – like the elimination of 500,000 names in Georgia in 2017 – through legislation that would prevent states from striking names without verifying that the voters in question no longer live in the state and would put procedures in place for wrongly removed voters to be allowed to cast ballots.
He is also proposing automatic voter registration – which would include preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Early voting would be extended to at least two weeks before Election Day, including on weekends. And polling places would be required to be near public transportation.