It’s Time for Citizens to Demand Answers and Access

We all have a right to vote, and to know what we are voting on. Citizens should require candidates to disclose their tax returns and require automatic access to the polls.

At the beginning of our country, during the ratification debates of the late 1780’s, our founding generation did something extraordinary and quintessentially American — they expanded the right to vote. Nearly every state waived its standard voting requirements and extended the franchise, allowing nearly all free adult men to vote on the ratifying conventions. While not perfectly inclusive to modern eyes, this was a radical act of democracy — throwing open the doors of participation to ensure wide understanding and consent among the people for the new, American constitution. It was the first act of the our new American character, one that would be echoed at every stage of our national growth and renewal. We are a people who cherish the right to vote, who cherish our right to know, and demand that those rights be extended to all citizens.

Today, it is time again for renewal. We now face a political leadership that refuses to be open with the American people about its divided loyalties and conflicted interests. Worse still, we face a political architecture that conditions the right to vote on bureaucratic red tape. No wonder the United States has dismally low voter participation rates: we make it hard to vote, and even those who vote are often disillusioned with the prospective candidates.

It does not have to be this way.

Yesterday, we launched the Transparency to Run campaign to remove barriers to information and access for voters. In a majority of states, the citizens have a right to directly implement new constitutional rules for their politics. We will ask citizens to use this power to require that all presidential candidates inform the public of their financial interests before the election, and that all citizens be automatically registered to vote.

These two measures will help fix the disillusionment that infects our politics. Most importantly, these measures come directly from the people — ballot initiatives are the most direct expression of popular will on an issue. And on these issues, the public will is clear. According to recent polling 61% of Americans think President Trump must disclose his tax returns and 59% openly support state laws requiring that disclosure. Moreover, 63% of Americans support automatic voter registration. This support cuts across party lines, with majorities in both parties supporting automatic voter registration and tax disclosure.

We can fix what ails our sclerotic politics. Our founding generation knew that the path to union, and to greatness, came through broad American democracy. Through a large and informed electorate, they created a Constitution and our nation. Each successive American generation has carried the banner forward — through Jacksonian populism, the Reconstruction amendments, the Progressive era, the Voting Rights Act, and the 24th and 26th Amendments.

Now we must again ensure the promise of our country is available to all its citizens. Citizens can demand these changes through the ballot box. It is long past time we require more from our government than gridlock and intrigue. It is time for effective, transparent government. In 2018, we will take up the mantel of prior generations and rebuild our democratic commitments.

Brett A. Seifried is General Counsel for New Leaders Council and Editor of The New Leader.