2020 Election

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2020 Election

Voters in the United States have spoken and we have a new President-elect. The election brought record voter turnout and hundreds of thousands of volunteers who served as poll workers and ballot counters. How can we keep that civic spirit alive into the new administration and beyond?

The election also revealed how parts of our election system are broken — from how and when voters can register to how the Electoral College functions. And ballot initiatives provide promise about bipartisan compromise on issues like minimum wage and marijuana, but a tough road ahead for ranked-choice voting.

This playlist addresses those issues and more, and we hope it will paint a picture of where there are opportunities for democracy reformers from across the country and across the political spectrum to move forward:

  • Politics in Question: How well did democracy do on Election Day? Will Donald Trump’s post-election behavior have long-term consequences for the health of America’s political system? Ezra Klein joins Politics in Question hosts Lee Drutman and James Wallner to discuss these questions.
  • How Do We Fix It?: Local and state-level politics provide opportunities for civic engagement in ways national politics often can't. CivcLex is bringing people from Lexington, Kentucky together to discuss the city's issues and work together to solve them across political divides.
  • Future Hindsight: Maria Yuan from Issue Voter joins host Mila Atmos to discuss how online tools can help people stay more informed about what elected officials are doing and make their voices heard.
  • Democracy Works: Politics in Question host Lee Drutman makes the case for multiparty democracy as a way to move beyond partisan gridlock as outlined in his book, "Breaking the Two Party Doom Loop."
  • Swamp Stories: Democracy reform is not just an issue for liberals. In this episode, Weston Wamp makes the case for why conservatives should care about things like gerrymandering and money in politics.
  • Democracy Matters: This episode provides some questions to consider in the wake of a divisive election, including the role of morality in politics and how to think about the political parties moving forward.
  • Another Way: Host Jason Harrow interviews the creator of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a solution for working around the Electoral College to select a U.S. President based on the nationwide popular vote winner.
  • In the Arena: Carl Gershman, founding director of the National Endowment for Democracy, provides a global perspective and discusses the NED's continued efforts to promote democracy around the world.
  • 70 Million: Journalist Ruxandra Guidi chronicles how activists, relatives of incarcerated people, and local residents are changing strategies and pushing for criminal justice reform.


Extreme maps, extreme politics

Despite ongoing threats of violence, the wheels of democracy continue to turn, and in 2021, that means redistricting. States will draw new electoral maps this year using data from the 2020 Census.

Our guest this week has spent the past decade covering attempts by politicians to draw those maps to their advantage in a practice known as gerrymandering. He's also covered the groups of citizens across the country who pushed back against them to win some major reforms that will make the process look different now than it did in 2010.

David Daley is a journalist and author of Unrigged: How Citizens are Battling Back to Save Democracy. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Slate, the Washington Post, and New York magazine. He is a senior fellow at FairVote, the former editor of Salon, and lives in Massachusetts.

Additional Information

Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy

David Daley on Twitter

Fair Districts PA on judicial gerrymandering

Did American democracy win on Election Day?

Ezra Klein joins Lee and James to discuss what the 2020 election reveals about the present state of American democracy. Klein is the editor-at-large and founder of Vox. He is the host of The Ezra Klein Show and the author of Why We’re Polarized. Klein has also written for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. He has appeared on Face the Nation, Real Time with Bill Maher, The McLaughlin Report, the Daily Show, and many more.

How well did democracy do on Election Day? Will Donald Trump’s post-election behavior have long-term consequences for the health of America’s political system? Will Democrats try to capitalize on their Election Day gains? And how will Republicans respond to their efforts? These are some of the questions Ezra, Lee, and James ask in this week’s episode.

Ezra Klein, “Trump is attempting a coup in plain sight,Vox (November 7, 2020).

Why Voting Isn't Enough. CivicLex: Richard Young, Megan Gulla

How do you get supporters of Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the same room at the same time working together on something political? It sounds almost impossible, but even at a time of hyper-partisan division, progress and trust can be achieved on a local level.

In this episode, we look at the groundbreaking work of CivicLex, a non-profit civic education and solutions journalism group based in Lexington, a Kentucky city of nearly 400,000 people. Civic Lex has three main goals: Improve access to information, Change the processes that govern how the city interacts with residents, and Democratize political power.

Our CivicLex guests are: Executive Director, Richard Young, who has worked on civic engagement and community development projects for almost a decade, and Director of Programs, Megan Gulla, who has worked and volunteered in a variety of fields, including creative, local journalism.

CivicLex has won funding from The National Endowment for the Arts, Knight Foundation, Facebook Journalism Project and other major donors. "There's something brilliant" in the mission of CivicLex, says Danielle Allen, Director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. "They're foregrounding the importance of relationships."

This show and several other recent episodes on local initiatives are funded with a grant from Solutions Journalism Network. We thank them for their support and encouragement.

Recommendation: Richard (our-co host!) is listening to the new podcast series, hosted by author and historian Jon Meacham, "Hope Through History."

Lasting Civic Engagement: Maria Yuan

Civic Engagement Online and In-Person

Technology can make participating in democracy easier than ever before because it’s scalable and makes it possible for everyone’s voices to be heard. However, civic engagement must also be done with human connection and in person, like in community conversations, town halls, and organizing. IssueVoter uses its online platform to motivate users to perform civic engagement in the real world. Thirty percent of IssueVoter users say the platform is the reason they voted, showing that the more information the user has, the more he or she is motivated to take action.

Fostering Accountability

IssueVoter fosters civic engagement in between elections by making it easier for users to know what bills are being proposed in Congress, and sending their opinions on those bills to their representatives. Then, users are informed how their representatives voted. It turns out that representatives aren’t always in alignment with their constituents. Knowing how your elected representatives voted is key to holding them accountable. In fact, 33% of users have changed their voting decisions based on IssueVoter information. IssueVoter stresses the importance of primary elections to vote for candidates in line with your values.

Policy Impacts Lives

We need to do a better job of connecting the dots between public policy and politics. Policies are created and enacted by the politicians we elect. All policies, ranging from healthcare to education, impact all of us, regardless of who we voted for or whether we voted at all. IssueVoter helps us understand how our elected politicians vote on policy matters and bills in Congress so that we know whether they are representing us and whether we should vote for them again.

Find out more:

Maria Yuan is the Founder of IssueVoter. an innovative non-profit and non-partisan platform that offers everyone a voice in our democracy by making civic engagement accessible, efficient, and impactful.

The time between elections is when the work that impacts our lives gets done. IssueVoter answers the question, “The election is over, now what?” Individuals use IssueVoter to get alerts about new bills related to issues they care about, send opinions to their Representative before Congress votes, and track how often s/he represents them. In partnership with companies, organizations, and candidates, IssueVoter encourages year-round civic engagement with their employees, customers, members, or constituents.

Maria’s political experience includes introducing and passing a bill as a constituent, working in a State Representative’s office in Texas, and managing and winning one of the most targeted races in Iowa – an open seat in a swing district. Maria earned degrees from The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania and The University of Texas at Austin. Maria’s writing has appeared in Huffington Post and The Hill, and she has spoken at SXSW, The Social Innovation Summit, Shearman & Sterling, UBS, NYU, and the University of Pennsylvania.

How to end democracy’s doom loop

As we bring this season of Democracy Works to a close, we’re going to end in a place similar to where we began — discussing the role of political parties in American democracy. We started the season discussing the Tea Party and the Resistance with Theda Skocpol and Dana Fisher, then discussed presidential primaries with David Karol and the role of parties in Congress with Frances Lee.

All of those episodes looked at the party system as it currently stands. This week’s conversation invites all of us to imagine how we can break out of the status quo and create something very different.

Lee Drutman is a senior fellow in the Political Reform program at New America. He is the author of Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America and The Business of America is Lobbying, and winner of the 2016 American Political Science Association’s Robert A. Dahl Award, given for “scholarship of the highest quality on the subject of democracy.” He has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Drutman  is also the co-host of the podcast Politics in Question, and writes for the New York Times, Vox, and FiveThirtyEight, among other outlets. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California.

We have one more new episode next week before we take a summer break. We’ll close the season with the second annual Democracy Works listener mailbag.

Additional Information

Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America

Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop audiobook

Politics in Question podcast

Political Reform at New America

Uniting for Action America – registration deadline July 31

Shadow State: Josh Rudolph with Luke Harding on the Kremlin’s Quest for Chaos in the West

This week, we’re handing the mic over to Josh Rudolph, the Malign Finance fellow at GMF’s Alliance for Securing Democracy and the author of the new report, Covert Foreign Money.

Josh is joined by Luke Harding, best-selling author and senior international correspondent at The Guardian. Harding, who served as The Guardian’s Moscow bureau chief from 2007-2011, recently published the new book “Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem, and Russia’s Remaking of the West.”

From Novichok poisonings to millions in covert money, Josh and Luke discuss how the Kremlin tries to spread its influence around the world. The fake news and Facebook trolls are just part of this story.  


The Conservative Case for Reform

Host Weston Wamp examines the history of conservatives opposing political reform over the years, and looks at how a new wave of Republican reformers is turning the tide when it comes to fixing the political system. Listen to this episode to hear Weston speak with some of these reformers, including a member of Congress, to build the conservative case for reform.


  • Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI)
  • Luke Knittig, Senior Director of Communications at the McCain Institute
  • John Pudner, Executive Director of Take Back our Republic
  • Nilmini Rubin, Co-Founder of Fix the System

More Democracy Is Better Democracy

How should we view the 2020 elections in the broader arc of American political history? What are some key questions we should be considering for governance in the wake of such a divisive election? What role does morality policy play in electoral politics? And what is the state of our political parties? In this episode, we dive into these questions and more with JMU Political Science faculty Dr. Marty Cohen and Dr. Kathleen Ferraiolo.

National Popular Vote On The Ballot, with Dr. John Koza

In this bonus episode, Jason speaks with National Popular Vote founder Dr. John Koza. They discuss the problems with the electoral college, how it can be reformed with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and the importance of Tuesday's referendum on the issue in Colorado.

No Longer Waiting for Top-Down Reform

Over the past few years, voters across the U.S.have elected prosecutors who promised to implement much-needed criminal justice reforms, from decriminalizing marijuana to ending cash bail. Journalist Ruxandra Guidi revisits her reporting on the election of a new prosecutor in Houston two years ago, and chronicles how activists, relatives of incarcerated people, and local residents are changing strategies and pushing for reform.

Will We Answer the Call to Defend Democracy?

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