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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

7 keys to a better American political system with more choices



Welcome to SWOT Sunday!


I attended a meeting last week about building the left over the short- and long-term.  I heard a lot of frustration with our political system: with the Democratic Party, especially around how they allocate resources; around challenges for progressives running for office; also, a desire to have more parties to choose from (like the Brits have, see picture).

 

This inspired me to add a threat (aka an obstacle) to my SWOT analysis: 

 

Our political system is structured to keep people from being properly represented generally, and to keep progressives from achieving significantly greater power. These "rules of the game" must be re-written for us to truly compete and win.

 

So today I’m going to create a brief road map of what we would need to accomplish to get from here to there. This is not a comprehensive road map. It’s more of an outline. Perhaps it will serve as a conversation-starter.

 

FairVote is probably the leading group on all things electoral reform-related.  There are others in the space, including, increasingly, from the center-right direction.  Most electoral reforms happen on the state and local level.

 

Discouraging and preventing people from voting and political engagement has been a major strategic focus for the right for decades.  Most “red” states have various unique laws/regulations that suppress the vote mightily, especially for people of color. In “blue” states, such laws/regulations also exist.  They may have a different flavor and be less extreme, but are no less anti-democratic.   

 

My Vision For “There” – Point B

 

My vision looks like this: 

 

Through creating a new political system, we will see much more broad-based, real and productive debate about the challenges we face as a society, more and better ideas surfacing and gaining support, more fair elections, and more real change will happen.

 

We will have a system where:


1 - Many more people believe change is possible and are moved to participate, not just by voting but by being active, including running for office and in party affairs.

2 - Campaigns are publicly financed, and where private donations exist, they are limited and fully disclosed.

3 - People across the political spectrum can have a party/candidate that represents them and that has a fair chance to get elected.

4 - Parties/candidates that are like-minded can form coalitions that represent a majority of the people, and minorities have power within the coalition. 

5 - Electoral campaigns are shorter.

6 - Campaigns are more focused on policy solutions and base-building.

7 - Parties operate in a more transparent and democratic fashion, with more power to grassroots members.

 

You’ll note the goal is not “progressives take power.”  Of course, that is what I want.  But a   better SYSTEM is not one that privileges any side, but one that allows a range of ideas to surface and be debated, people and parties to compete fairly, and whoever puts together majority support to take power.  Progressives COULD win here – to a degree they can’t now – but it wouldn’t be guaranteed. 

 

A vision like this can generate broad support across political lines, which you need to make major change.  We need to make electoral reform itself a campaign issue.  It already has support across the political spectrum and in some places that might surprise you.

 

Getting From Point A (where we are now) to Point B

 


I’ve tried to put these points somewhat in order of appearance.  For example, we need more people to participate, in order to find more and better candidates, help them fight the Democratic establishment and win.  It makes sense to focus on local and statewide reform first, and first on the areas where we’re more likely to win, then expanding out.  When we have a larger base both within the population and within power structures, and more money and infrastructure, we’ll have more power for more dramatic and higher-level change.

 

Point B-1:  Many more people believe change is possible and are moved to participate, not just by voting but by being active, including running for office and in party administration.

 

Some ways to get there:

 

  • Grassroots organizations produce and/or endorse potential candidates who have a good reputation in their community, have integrity, and share their commitment to key policy solutions.

    • Electing their own people can help build power and pride in an organization

    • Strong candidates and warm, welcoming campaigns inspire occasional, new and non-voters to get engaged and believe, especially when they win.

    • When these candidates get popular, whether or not they win, that can really help build support for electoral reform.

  • Campaign for people from all walks of life to get involved for their communities, for the people they care about.  Show how elections can matter in a positive way and help create a more honest and responsive government.  Civic engagement can be a cure for the isolation that’s taken such a toll on society.

  • Increase support and awareness of groups like:

  • Run for Something and Leaders We Deserve, who recruit, train and support young candidates. Recruiting candidates and helping them succeed is one of the most difficult jobs in the electoral space.

  • Arena, who “builds the [campaign] teams that power victories.”

  • Expand on what groups like Justice Democrats, Our Revolution and New Kings Democrats do to challenge Democratic Party business-as-usual.

 

Point B-2:   Campaigns are publicly financed, and where private donations exist, they are limited and must be fully disclosed.


  • Get public financing done in more municipalities and states, and then grow to more states and finally to the Federal level.  Elected officials who have benefited should play a leading role in advocating for public finance.

  • Public financing is a game-changer for young and grassroots-oriented candidates, though it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) eliminate the need for individual donations.

  • It takes a lot of support and effort to overcome entrenched interests in political parties as well as the donor class, to get these programs into law and, just as importantly, to enforce them.  Most people do get instinctively why this matters. 

 

Point B-3: People across the political spectrum can have a party/candidate that represents them and that has a fair chance to get elected.

 

Point B-4: Parties/candidates that are like-minded can form coalitions that represent a majority of the people, and minorities can have power within the coalition. 


To fully actualize these points, we’d have to achieve a multi-party and/or proportional representation system.  These are far in the future.  If we achieved these interim goals, we would be building power to go for that big change.  I’m thinking that in 25 years – around 2050 – we could conceivably get there.  The fact that we may be in a full-blown climate crisis by then could help blow up business-as-usual politics.


  • Fair maps (end gerrymandering and have independent commissions, not politicians, create the district maps).

  • Help the Working Families Party (WFP) expand from some 20 states to all 50 and be able to run on their own ballot line.

  • Long-term education and PR campaign, including in schools, about how multi-party and proportional representation systems are the norm around the world, including our neighbors, Canada and Mexico; how they provide better representation and results across the spectrum; how we CAN do it here.   

    • You probably couldn’t find a single person in the US who thinks the two-party system is optimal.

    • I would guess that most Americans know little or nothing about the alternatives.  If they’ve heard anything, it’s probably that other systems are too unstable.

  • Expand Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) across the country.  RCV promotes cooperation among like-minded candidates, especially important in primaries.  It eliminates the “spoiler effect” and ensures no one is elected without majority support.  It functions somewhat like a multi-party system.

  • Eliminate partisan primaries.  “Jungle” primaries that take the top x number of candidates, regardless of party, to the general election make it far more likely that a good selection of candidates will make it.  This is especially true of states or districts that are highly dominated by one party.

Other interim goals:


  • Long-term financial support to develop new parties and shepherd them from the local to regional to national level.

  • Significantly lower ballot access requirements. 

 

Point B-5: Election campaigns are shorter.


Shorter campaigns – in Canada, they last from 37 to 51 days - are less expensive, easier to focus on, and take less of a financial and personal toll on working-class and regular people. 

 

Point B-6 - Campaigns are more focused on policy solutions and base-building.


  • Grassroots-based campaigns, with candidates touting strong policies around top issues for their base, can connect with people more authentically and deeply and help build a base that sticks around after the campaign.

  • We need to invest in alternative media, more effective campaign media operations, and pressure existing media to cover what matters about elections. 

o   Obviously the Democratic Party is horrible at communications.  Partly this is because they are working to maintain the status quo, rather than fighting for change.  Progressives, too, have to develop more emotional intelligence to communicate effectively with a broader base.


o   When we elect more progressive officials and gain more power within party structures, we will have more power to change the nature of campaigns.


Point B-7 - Parties operate in a more transparent and democratic fashion, with more power to grassroots members.


Making this change could be analogous to what has happened at some major labor unions.  Rank-and-file members have removed corrupt and ineffective leaders, and selected new leaders from their own ranks to change the unions’ operations.  It certainly won’t come from above, only from below.


Our main concern is the Democratic Party. However, there are lots of decent people out there who are center-right independents and former “Main St” Republicans who are without a political home now.  Getting them split off from today’s GOP and working with us on a more representative political system could bring an important shift in the balance of power.

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