A new Congress and renewed commitment -- toward a "more perfect union"
Ongoing Congressional dysfunction makes the case for proportional representation
[From DemocracySOS editor Steven Hill: Happy New Year to all DemocracySOS subscribers, and allies of democracy everywhere. These are the best of times and the worst of times. Representative democracy has shown itself to be fragile, it’s forward progress can no longer be taken for granted. It requires constant effort and maintenance on the part of everyday people and their leaders who care. Yet representative democracy also has shown itself to be resilient in the face of multiple existential crises. Election deniers lost election after election, and political reform efforts like Ranked Choice Voting made more gains in 2022 than in any previous year.
Our souls have been tried and we have emerged stronger and wiser. As we look forward to 2023, FairVote’s Rob Richie provides an inspiring roadmap in his article below. It’s time for believers in fairness, representation, and the rule of law to roll up our sleeves and once again renew our commitment to this vital work.]
From Rob Richie —
As we reflect on the state of our republic two years after the attack on the Capitol, and with a Speaker of the House only chosen after 15 rounds of voting, the need to fix our elections is as clear as ever. We remain deeply polarized and our winner-take-all elections – where losing can lock you out of representation for years – heighten the stakes at this fraught time.
Yet there’s also a lot to give us hope. As reported in FairVote’s review of ranked choice voting in 2022, more than 100 elections across the country used RCV in 2022, and three million Americans had access to RCV ballots. Six state legislatures passed bills with pro-RCV provisions (including Hawaii to fill congressional vacancies), eight cities and states passed RCV ballot initiatives, and two more localities adopted RCV via ordinance. RCV bills are already being introduced in legislatures around the country for their 2023 sessions.
In December, Congress passed the biggest reform in generations to the Electoral Count Act – the law that governs the process by which Congress counts and certifies electoral votes. The changes will make it harder for members of Congress to object to a state’s submitted Electors, and clarify that the Vice President’s role in the process is solely ceremonial. These changes may discourage future attempts to block Congress from counting electoral votes. In the lead-up to the reform’s passage, FairVote and other good government groups wrote extensively about the bill and advised lawmakers on how it should be structured. Most recently, we have expressed our solidarity with Brazilian leaders combatting their own January 6th-type attacks on its democratic institutions over this past weekend.
Plurality chaos in the House of Representatives
As FairVote staffers walked through the halls of Congress, signs of frustration over the Speaker election impasse were evident everywhere. Staffers and Members-elect were unsure how the day would end, fearing that no candidate for Speaker of the House would reach the majority of votes required to win. In round after round of voting, the votes were split among three or more candidates, keeping every candidate below the magic number of 218 votes.
As the New York Times and others reported, without a Speaker, the House of Representatives is unable to function. Federal law says that electing a Speaker must be the first business of each new House, before Members can move on to any other business or even swear their oaths of office. If a national crisis occurred while Speaker votes dragged on, the House would likely have been unable to act until Members found a consensus pick. Members even struggled to provide services to their constituents, since they couldn’t receive key briefings and information from government agencies.
The whole process seemed to be making the case for using Ranked Choice Voting for picking the Speaker - a change only requiring a new chamber rule, not a new law. By allowing Members to indicate their second and subsequent choices upfront, RCV would have let the House quickly determine who the most widely acceptable candidate is – perhaps requiring RCV after a certain number of rounds had failed to produce a majority winner. Gone would be the specter of Congress being paralyzed and leaderless for days.
New advocacy opportunities in states and cities
As we saw in the Speaker election debacle, successful political reform often is opportunity driven. There is a specific problem that current democratic rules are not able to address, and so new rules can provide a solution. Problem-Solution, that is often the formula for successful reform.
In a similar vein, already in 2023 we are seeing problems in various locations across the nation for which RCV offers a solution. After strong votes of support from their governing bodies, already two more cities are scheduled to vote on RCV in March – Redondo Beach, CA and Burlington, VT (with Vermont’s biggest city deciding whether to extend use of RCV from city council elections to all elections). We also have a growing number of state legislatures debating RCV legislation, with FairVote’s advocacy team deeply involved in partnering with others in support of several of these bills - stay tuned for more news in a future update.
Remembering Lani Guinier
In the midst of all our reform battles, I’ve always felt it is important to acknowledge our reform heroes and predecessors. We stand on some mighty shoulders. At this time, I would like to lift up long-time ally and inspiration Lani Guinier, the Harvard law professor and voting rights champion, who passed away one year ago on January 7, 2022. A visionary thinker on representative democracy and a personal friend, Lani was one of America’s strongest advocates for civil rights and for using fair methods of proportional voting to guarantee that America lives up to it awe-inspiring democratic promise. In 2017, she was a winner of FairVote’s Champion of Democracy Reward, and she made our reform movement stronger.
At FairVote, we are determined to follow in Professor Guinier’s giant footsteps, and work hard to ensure that 2023-2024 will see the spread of electoral reform even more profound and widespread than in 2022. Please join me in remembering Lani, and renewing our commitment to enacting a vision for a more perfect union.
Rob Richie @Rob_Richie
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