A Massive Reform Movement is Building

Reform campaigns are succeeding at the state and local level all over the country. Interest, donations and volunteers are stepping up, and many successes have been achieved. According to reform advocate RepresentUs, 170 transformative anti-corruption laws, from anti-gerrymandering and ranked choice voting to sweeping ethics An aroused and engaged public could and transparency laws, have been passed in cities and states.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, enjoys support from state and federal elected leaders of both parties, and polls show more than 70 percent support from voters. It has been enacted into law in 16 states with 205 electoral votes. The law will take effect when enacted by states with 65 more electoral votes.

Other indications of the success of today's pro-democracy movement can be seen in the growing strength, credibility, and capabilities of the many involved organizations. Among these successes, FairVote and the other advocates of ranked choice voting are getting traction. Ranked choice voting has been adopted in a number of jurisdictions, so it is already allowing people to vote for their favorite candidate without fear of wasting their vote and thereby allowing someone to be elected who doesn't represent the views of the majority of voters in their district.

Transformative Results Tomorrow

The table is set for explosive growth of the pro-democracy movement. People are fed up and want this mess cleaned up.

If enough Americans actively push a pro-democracy agenda, resistance to our self-evidently fair and reasonable demands would collapse. An aroused and engaged public could utterly transform American democracy. This aroused and engaged public would be, in fact, exactly what its advocates claim. It would be unstoppable.

This is a battle that can be won. And this is a battle that must be won. To prevail, broad and inclusive coalitions are being built. Advocates are making a major effort to engage the entire political spectrum, because while this is a battle, the great mass of the people - those on the right and those on the left - share a common interest in a well-functioning democracy.

A look at some survey research will give us a sense of the enormous potential. Already mentioned above was the more than 70 percent support for a National Popular Vote for President. Americans are also opposed to partisan gerrymandering. Polls from both 2017 and 2019 showed more than 70 percent of voters from all parties agree the Supreme Court should place limits on gerrymandering.

This kind of public support is more the rule than the exception. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, an overwhelming share of Americans (87 percent) say they would favor automatically updating voter registrations when people move, and 85 percent favor requiring electronic voting machines to print paper backup ballots. Roughly two-thirds of Americans favor allowing those convicted of felonies to vote after they have served their sentences, and likewise two-thirds favor making Election Day a national holiday, automatically registering all citizens to vote, and allowing Election Day registration.

Given all of this, robust but conditional optimism is justified. Robust in that the momentum of reform combined with very high levels of public support yields strong optimism. This optimism must be conditional, however, because nothing like the transformative change we need will happen unless we make it so.

Types of Reform Activities

Waging Campaigns - These may be campaigns for state ratification of U.S. Constitutional Amendments, or they may be state-level voter initiatives or advocacy campaigns aimed at particular state legislatures. They seek major reforms in law.

Organizing Support For Legislation - The House of Representatives in a previous Democratic majority-controlled session proposed a sweeping election and governance reform bill that would have addressed many of the larger systemic problems in our democracy. It never made it to the President's desk. Organizing citizen support for election reform remains an important focus for our advocacy. The Republican controlled House of Representatives will need intense pressure to do anything useful to strengthen democracy.

Mobilizing Potential Voters - Campaigns to support and assist with naturalization, voter registration, the engaging of low-propensity voters, peer-to-peer communications, giving everyone access to voter ID rules, registration rules, and absentee rules that apply to them, and finally actual voting.

Fighting Voter Suppression - Assisting in meeting ID requirements, advocating for more polling places that are more conveniently located, more advance voting options, and other specific steps to ensure that people who want to vote can do so.

Informing Voters - A number of initiatives are aimed at improving public access to vital information, as well as at making elections fully transparent and trustworthy. How have incumbents voted, and how does that compare with their past promises? What are candidates promising now, and how does that square with their histories? Who is paying a candidate's campaign bills, and are they in fact calling the tune?

Recruiting Candidates - There are tens of thousands of "entry-level" elected positions in the United States. Finding good people to run for these offices is often the key to improving the democratic process and the quality of leadership provided by elected officials. Candidates should be recruited who embody the spirit of democracy and who, after taking office, seek to represent all of their constituents and not just those who voted for them.

Pushing The Media - Community media, local newspapers, radio and TV stations, and national and online media are being pressured to do a better job by a combination of criticism and appeals to fulfill their democratic responsibilities as the fourth estate. This pressure also involves calling out the purveyors of propaganda and teaching the public how to tell the difference between news and propaganda.

Promoting & Providing Civic Education - This includes but extends much beyond restoring civics and history in public school curricula. Many adults lack a basic understanding of our form of government and of the history of how and why we got to where we are today. Such understanding is essential to inform voting decisions.

Community & Trust Building Initiatives - Directly engaging community antagonisms and divisions with the intention of reducing hostilities and promoting civility in the discussion of divisive issues is at least part of the focus of many organizations working to promote democracy. Less hostility and more civility facilitate greater cooperation in meeting community needs.

Acting Through The Legal System - Filing legal briefs, doing legal research, and developing legal strategy to ensure that reform proposals are legally solid are core activities for a substantial number of reform organizations.

Gathering Endorsements - Many organizations offer online opportunities to sign on as "co-sponsors" or supporters, thus giving your personal endorsement and often inviting others to do so as well in the process.

Starting Local Chapters - Strategies to expand the base of support for specific reform proposals sometimes involve the proliferation of local chapters.

Holding Conferences - These help to build movements, inspire and nurture optimism, foster networking, grow activist and advocacy skills, and share methods and tools.

(Re)Searching for Understanding - Many academic institutes, foundations, and nonprofit think tanks are researching how best to understand what is not working in our democracy. Then, armed with that understanding, they work to figure out what sorts of reform efforts would be most effective. Some also offer training opportunities as well as collaborative consulting to local governments. This work may focus on such things as encouraging public engagement and seeking greater unity of purpose and vision in the community.

Publishing - Guides to success, organizing tools, databases, software, apps, online articles, reform movement news, resource collections, and more are often published by advocacy organizations and made widely available so that others may be encouraged and assisted.

Two Cautionary Notes

The same Pew Research Center report cited above also found that about three-quarters of voters favor removing inaccurate and duplicate registrations from voter lists using automatic methods, and a similar three-quarters favor requiring all voters to show government-issued photo ID to vote.

While the public is strongly with the reformers on most important reforms, it is clearly not on the two issues referenced above. They make too much common sense to people, and the use of these methods to suppress the vote is in the minds of most voters not sufficient reason to forgo what they see as common sense precautions (Voter ID and registration-purging). As a consequence, with Voter ID laws our best strategy may be to keep the requirements something voters can accomplish, and then help anyone who needs assistance to secure the necessary ID.

The second cautionary note is that activists would be wise not to adopt a partisan slant on pro-democracy reform. If we really believe in democracy, then we want everyone to vote. Not just those who agree with us on positions. Everyone. Perhaps half of Republican voters support many of the most important reforms. If opposing reform becomes a test of tribal loyalty and we lose that Republican support, reform measures would go from overwhelming popular support to something more like 50-50.

Experienced campaigners know that if Republican voters start seeing pro-democracy reforms as being implemented in a way designed to favor Democrats (Republican Congressional leaders already see them that way), our winning numbers could morph into a draw, and a draw favors the status quo.

Published: August 2019
Revised: July 2023

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