Democracy Reform

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Democracy Reform

Democracy is not meant to be static. It needs to evolve to meet changes in how we live our lives. However, many of the democratic practices and institutions in the United States have not been updated in decades or even longer, despite massive changes in how Americans consume information and communicate with each other.

Individuals and organizations across the country are working on reforms to strengthen American democracy and make it more inclusive and more representative of the country’s changing demographics and preferences. Reforms include ranked-choice voting, open primaries, campaign finance changes, and more. 

All of these issues need dedicated grassroots volunteers who can start to affect change at the local and state level. Listen to these episodes and check out the additional resources for more information on how you can get involved in the push to make democracy work for everyone.


The Two-Party Doom Loop - Lee Drutman

The Iowa caucuses and forthcoming Presidential primary season are another reminder that the two big parties have a stranglehold on American politics.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. More voters identify as independents than as Republicans or Democrats. Our guest, Lee Drutman, senior fellow at New America and author of “Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop”, makes the case for a multiparty system, which, he says, would boost compromise, problem-solving, voter turnout and confidence in the political process.

“To try to shoehorn a country this diverse and sprawling into just two parties to me is insanity,” Lee tells us. “It creates an us-against-them zero-sum mentality every political election."

We discuss solutions, including ranked choice voting, multi-seat congressional districts, and expanding representation in the House of Representatives.

Your guide to ranked-choice voting

Ranked-choice voting has been in the news a lot lately. It was adopted in New York City’s November 2019 election, used for the first time in U.S. Congressional elections last year, and will be the method by which at least a few states choose a Democratic primary candidate in 2020.

But, what is it? How does it work? And, is it more democratic than the single-vote method we’re used to? This week’s guest has answers to all of those questions.

Burt L. Monroe is Liberal Arts Professor Political Science, Social Data Analytics, and Informatics at Penn State and Director of the university’s Center for Social Data Analytics. He says ranked-choice voting is generally a good thing for democracy, but not entirely without problems of its own. We also talk about bullet voting, donkey voting, and other types of voting that have been tried around the world.

As Michael and Chris discuss, ranked-choice voting falls into a category of grassroots organizing around pro-democracy initiatives like gerrymandering and open primaries. These efforts signal a frustration with the status quo and a desire to make the rules of democracy more fair and equitable.

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Additional Information

Fairvote, an advocacy group for ranked-choice voting and election reform

Burt’s Google Scholar listing

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.

Drawing Inspiration From Alaska

For more information about the ballot measure and Alaskans for Better Elections, click here:

Zizi Papacharissi Dreams of What Comes After Democracy

Political theorist Takis Pappas has described the formation of liberal democracy as an elite project. Its creation was dependent on the decisions of political leaders rather than the public. But over the subsequent decades the space between politicians and their constituents has grown smaller. It is now unclear whether elected officials remain political leaders or whether they simply follow the opinions of their constituents.

Democracy is in the process of a transformation. Politicians have abdicated responsibility for political power to the people, but the people do not share a sense of responsibility for this newfound political power. So, everyone blames each other for political conflict, but nobody accepts the responsibility to resolve it. It is not clear anyone completely understands what democracy is or what it will become.

Robert Dahl imagined the possibility of a third transformation of democracy into something deeper, thicker, and richer. But he never explained how this new sense of democracy might manifest itself. Dahl thought more about democracy than anyone has before or since.

So I have searched for the next incarnation of Robert Dahl but have failed to discover her or him. These conversations are my attempt to piece together the ideas from multiple perspectives about democracy to offer an updated theory of democratic governance.

Populism, of course, is the great challenge for democracy today. Many scholars have offered institutional solutions as an antidote to populism. But the challenges democracy faces are not an American problem. They exist across the globe. They persist in Presidential and Parliamentary systems. It is a deeper challenge within the demos itself.

I believe democracy will inevitably overcome the populist challenge. It will emerge from this crisis stronger and healthier. Fifty years from now democracy will be different than it is today. And in five hundred years, its institutions may even be unrecognizable. But I believe the answer exists.  

Zizi Papacharissi has dared to imagine what our future may hold after democracy. The research for her remarkable book, After Democracy, took her around the world where she asked one hundred everyday citizens three simple questions:

1.      What is democracy?

2.      What is citizenship?

3.      What might make democracy better?

The answers she received helped her imagine what might come after democracy. Zizi offers us a dream. She explained to me that she “wanted the book to have a dream-like feel, like a dream many people were having together or a polyphonic story they were simultaneously telling and listening to.”

Zizi Papacharissi is a professor of communication and political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She was among the first to study social media and has shaped the scholarship on political communication on the internet. Her name is a familiar sighting in the footnotes of many of the books and articles I read.

Our conversation explores the ideas in her book from many different angles. We talk about the meaning of democracy and the role of citizens. We think about how democracy might be reimagined. And she invites you to dream of what might come after democracy.

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Additional Resources