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Overview of Reforms
Saving Democracy

Our democracy and governmental system is huge and complex. And broken. Because of this complexity, and because our system is broken in so many different places and in so many different ways, we must approach the project of making our democracy work by figuring out all the many places and ways it has broken down.

We need to repair the whole system, beginning at the very beginning, with voter values, opinions, preferences, voting behavior, and citizen political involvement. We need to extend our reform efforts through the system step-by-step all the way to the final outputs - the actual delivered results that the public experiences directly.

It is widely understood that what comes out of the results end of this Rube Goldberg sausage-making monstrosity we call democracy and government often bears little resemblance to the voters' and taxpayers' intentions and expectations on the input side. Because the results also so often bear little resemblance to the promises of dissembling politicians, the disappointment, cynicism and bitterness of voters grows.

As a consequence, it should come as no surprise that so many don't even bother to vote. Nor should we be surprised that so many of those who do vote are doing so despite knowing that the system is pretty well rigged against what they really want.

Dramatic Scope of Efforts Underway

The state of our democracy is highly distressing to tens of millions of Americans. Our collective distress is powerful. It has ignited a wide and deep movement, now growing rapidly, to repair and reform our democracy and government.

Efforts underway focus on scores of specific problems, and they involve hundreds of groups and many thousands of volunteers. Work to develop an inventory of these reform campaigns is in progress. Efforts span everything from voter enfranchisement (think statehood for Washington DC and Puerto Rico and ending lifetime disenfranchisement for felons) to campaigns focused on preventing corruption and improving performance in the administrative structures charged with implementing legislation. In between are dozens of pressure points where special pleaders attempt to get their way and reformers push back.

Complicating this picture is the soft, or wicked, side of this challenge. This involves things like the media's poor performance, the rise of the uncomprehending voter, the lies and propaganda permeating political advertising, distinguishing fact from fiction in political discussion generally, deteriorating civic values among voters, growing tribalism, anger, and distrust between factions and even geographic regions. All these things are part of our problem and must be reformed as well if we hope to make democracy work as it must. Courageous organizations are tackling these wicked problems also, and their efforts will be incorporated in our inventory.

Compounding the straightforward problems plus wicked problems one-two punch, we have some reform efforts lacking visible quick results. An example would be the attempt to restore civics education so that young people are given a basic grounding in how our system works. Too slow, you may think, but not so. First, as immediately urgent as our need for a well-functioning democracy may be, our struggles to adapt to changing circumstances will go on for decades and provide plenty of time for such investments to bear fruit. But just as important, a class of socially engaged people, teachers, would need to be convinced quickly to begin. This would represent a hidden but relatively immediate benefit.

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