For all of the challenges and distressing attempts at interference, the recent elections overall were an amazing exercise in democracy that underscored the power of the people when we give them fair access to safe, secure, and trustworthy means to vote. While voting appropriately remains a primarily state and local government function, there are several things the federal government can do to protect the vote, and some general principles to ensure that it is the people who are choosing their representatives rather than elected officials choosing their voters (as is too often case today).
The theme song for this prong of the “We’re Better Than This” platform was one of my easier picks: People Have the Power by the great Patti Smith. There are three core elements to this plan: a new approach to the Electoral College; reforms to reduce the influence of extremes in both parties; and ensuring everyone of eligible age has a meaningful opportunity to vote.
A Better Electoral College:
With the electoral college vote increasingly out of step with the popular vote in our Presidential elections, many if not most justifiably believe we should ditch the electoral college altogether and just go by the popular vote. My problem with that approach is similar to my problem with the current system: it focuses the candidates on high population areas of the country more likely to agree with them at the expense of building a truly national campaign.
My solution is we keep the electoral college but apportion each state’s votes by population. That way, if you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Mississippi, your vote still gets counted. And because both sides would get counted in every state, there is incentive for candidates to compete for voters nationwide rather than just putting all their eggs in the basket of the few swing states as we see today.
This system would better reflect the popular vote while giving voters everywhere more of a say in the outcome. No, it won’t magically reduce the focus of each party on their base states, but rather than a handful of states that are not broadly representative of the country deciding the election each time, we all would get a say and candidates would have to act accordingly.
A Better Way to Elect our Representatives:
No one likes gerrymandering except the ones who are doing it, and to be clear, both parties do it all the time when they have the opportunity. A few states like Iowa, where there has been some intervention to require districts are drawn in nonpartisan, geographically sensible ways, offer a better model for redistricting and limiting political interference.
Drawing the districts fairly only solves part of the problem though. The current primary system is pushing both parties towards the extremes, which is both driving gridlock and creating more raging moderates like me who cannot believe the choices we are often left with in the general election. Whether it is the undue influence of public employee unions on the left or hardcore conservatives on the right, they both push their parties toward extremes that most general election voters do not actually support. There are two good ways to limit this pernicious effect.
First is ranked choice voting, which Maine and some other jurisdictions are using to give people the opportunity to vote with their hearts first, but to hedge that with a strategic backup vote if their preferred candidate does not win. This does wonders to limit what we too often see in the absence of ranked choice systems: two opposing extreme choices in the general election where the majority of voters actually support neither of them. And hats off to Maine for the animated video explainer too!
Another way to tackle this problem is what they have done in California: using nonpartisan primaries where the top two candidates regardless of party move on to the general election. This too can limit the influence of extremes, especially in multi-candidate races.
A Better Way to Ensure Everyone Can Vote:
A new Voting Rights Act, and the concept of naming it for John Lewis–an American hero and true patriot–is one that should carry over to the new Congress. There sadly are still too many shenanigans to limit the ability of Blacks and marginalized communities to exercise their right to vote, and that is simply un-American.
On a related front, we need to do away with limits on otherwise eligible people being able to vote absent proof of election-related fraud. The idea that many states still can and do limit the ability of people with criminal records to vote is scandalous, particularly when it is tied to payment of fees and fines that unjustly stick with low-income people like scarlet letters. The fact that someone has a prior criminal record should never limit their ability to vote except for that very narrow class of people who have committed election-related fraud.
Finally, the 2020 elections proved what many have known for quite some time: voting by mail can be a safe and secure and a far more convenient way for people to cast their ballots. We can help state and local governments expand this option and offer other secure ways to vote by setting national standards and providing funding to help them meet those standards. The Post Office could play a much bigger role too, not just by delivering mail ballots but also by serving as secure drop off locations for ballots.