All posts by Tabatha Abu El-Haj

Why Governing is Also a Path to Restoring Our Democracy

Senator Klobuchar summarized the Build Back Better plan on Twitter, “Millions of good-paying jobs. New roads and bridges. Broadband access for everyone. Lower costs for childcare, elder care, and community college. We’re going to get this bill to the President’s desk. That’s how we build back better.” She might have added, “This is also how we build back faith in American democracy.”

Passing government programs that address the needs of everyday Americans is itself an important part of the process of restoring both faith in our democratic institutions and functionality to our democratic processes. The basic lesson of the so-called policy feedback literature is that the choices we make in how we govern the economy, health, and education can either reverse or reinforce inequities in civic and political capacity. 

As Pete Buttigieg remarked awhile back, “a lot of the mistrust in our country right now is the result of policy failure. And that policy failure is largely about a generation of intentional disinvestment in the things that we share and need together.” He is right.  Policymaking has second-order effects on citizens’ attitudes about, and relations to, democracy—effects that can either instill civic and political engagement or breed endemic apathy. The specific direction of the policy feedback depends not only on the generosity and universality of those policies, but also on their visibility and the efficiency of their implementation.

Laws regulating election procedures are not the only, or even the most important, influences on enhancing political participation, fostering political capacity, or restoring faith in our democratic institutions. A government that gets things done for its people, and broadcasts clearly when it has done so, is another. Thus, while today’s announcement that a group of Democratic Senators, including Amy Klobuchar, have a new, paired down voting rights bill is promising, we should all note that the Build Back Better plan is itself a “democracy-reform” package—an opportunity to demonstrate policy responsiveness and an important step toward restoring faith in our democratic institutions.

Share this:

Governor Wolf Creates Redistricting Advisory Council to Help Evaluate Fairness in Upcoming Congressional Redistricting Map

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced the creation of a Redistricting Advisory Council as part of his commitment to a fair and transparent redistricting process that will involve the public. The Advisory Council has been tasked with: reviewing the processes in other states that reduce gerrymandering; developing factors to determine if a plan improves the integrity and fairness of representation while preventing the dilution of a person’s vote; and offering recommendations to ensure that districts are compact and contiguous, keep communities together, and ensure people are proportionally represented.

I am honored to have been invited to join this Advisory Council.

Share this:

Pa. ends ‘prison gerrymandering’ with closely divided committee vote

From WHYY in Philadelphia:

“The commission in charge of redrawing Pennsylvania’s House and Senate maps has voted 3-2 to make a major change to the redistricting process: It will no longer count many state prisoners as residents of the districts where they’re incarcerated, but rather as residents of the districts where they originally lived.

. . . .

It fell to the committee’s court-appointed tiebreaker, longtime University of Pittsburgh law professor Mark Nordenberg, to make the decision. He noted that this is a big change in a redistricting process already marred by late census data, and the logistics will be time consuming and tricky. But ultimately, he voted for change.”

The decision does not affect federal election districts.

Share this:

What new census data tell us about Pa.’s politics: More influence for Philly and Latinos, and a shrinking white vote

From Jonathan Tamari and Jonathan Lai at the Philadelphia Inquirer: An interesting in-depth analysis of the potential political consequences of demographic changes in Pennsylvania—sadly, behind a firewall.

Two key points beyond the headline:

  • “Philadelphia and suburban Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties added more than 209,000 people in the last decade. That’s a 5.22% increase, while the rest of the state grew just 1.05%.”
  • The five counties around Harrisburg are also growing: “The population in these five counties increased by 107,000, a 6.7% growth that was among the state’s highest.”

One potential implication (not discussed in the article): As political power shifts to relatively wealthy and politically well-organized suburbs, Pennsylvania may begin to join those states, like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Maine, that tend to see a less radical drop in turnout during midterm elections. “About half of the vote in a Democratic primary now comes from the Philadelphia region”—i.e., from these counties.  This will give those voters “massive influence” in state-wide races, but is also likely to impact voter turnout.

Share this:

Political Conduct and the First Amendment

Now that I have finished a draft of a new Article, Political Conduct and the First Amendment, I am eager to join the conversation on the ELB. I couldn’t be more thankful to Rick for including me as part of the team. I am a devout reader of the blog and look forward to broadening the ongoing discussion in the election law community about how to improve both democratic governance and faith in democratic institutions.

In the meanwhile, like many of us, I have been wrestling with how to make sense of the Roberts Court’s indifference to voters and democracy. Political Conduct and the First Amendment is my take on the bigger picture:

Preview: The First Amendment’s primary constitutional role is to defend our nation’s commitment to the collective project of self-governance. Its provisions protect both speech and political conduct toward the end of securing vital channels for influencing public policymaking, demanding responsiveness, and ensuring accountability. Over time, however, the Supreme Court and scholars alike have gravitated to the speech clause, driven by the misconception that democracy is a product of political discussion, rather than political participation. The Court has thus reduced a multifaceted amendment protecting the political process writ large into a singular protection for free expression. The Article explains not only why this is a mistake, but how it negatively impacts our democracy. It proceeds to offer a more nuanced account of the First Amendment’s relationship to self-governance—one that vindicates a construction of the amendment that actually protects democracy in all its facets. The three main pillars of this new account are: protection for political conduct; recognition of a strong anti-entrenchment norm; and a better appreciation of the significance of drawing a distinction between the domain of governance and the domain of politics in First Amendment jurisprudence.

Share this: