Video: How do we stabilize our democracy? – The Fulcrum
The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was not an isolated incident. Instead, it marked the culmination of the ongoing degradation of our political culture. A successful democracy relies upon the consent of its losers— both voters and candidates. But over the last two decades, American political losers have increasingly refused to consent to the winners. R Street Institute looks at what can be done to reverse this trend and develop a healthier political culture?
Voters head to the polls in Minneapolis, one of five Minnesota cities that used ranked-choice voting on Tuesday.
It wasn’t just candidates on the ballot across the country this week — in some places, the method for casting those votes was under consideration as well.
Ranked-choice voting, the most popular alternative to traditional ballot-casting, was approved by voters in three cities on Nov. 2: Ann Arbor, Mich., Broomfield, Colo., and Westbrook, Maine. In addition, numerous cities that had previously authorized a switch to RCV used it for the first time this week.
The vote in Ann Arbor, where an overwhelming 73 percent of ballots were in favor of a switch to ranked-choice voting, is both the most significant and least consequential of the three victories. Ann Arbor, home to 124,000 people, is by far the largest of the three cities to vote on RCV. However, the new system cannot be instituted unless the Michigan Legislature grants its own approval to such a change. If state law is changed, voters in Ann Arbor will use RCV to elect the mayor and city council
“Ann Arbor voters demonstrated at about a two-to-one margin that they want RCV,” said Deb Otis, senior research analyst for FairVote, a nonprofit election reform organization that specializes in ranked-choice voting. She explained that following such a strong victory, local advocates are working on a campaign, including an analysis of state law, so the city can institute a new elections system.
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In Broomfield, a consolidated city and county of 70,000 people, the vote was far closer, as RCV passed with 52 percent of the vote. Ranked elections will be used to select the mayor and council members beginning with the 2023 balloting.
And in Westbrook (population 19,000), 63 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of using RCV to elect the mayor, city councilors and school committee members, joining Portland as the second Maine city to institute RCV for municipal elections. Ranked-choice voting is already used for all state and federal elections in Maine. In addition, Westbrook will use proportional representation for positions with multiple officeholders.
Voters in two other cities — Austin, Texas, and Burlington, Vt. — approved RCV measures earlier this year.
In a ranked-choice (or instant runoff) election, voters rank their preferred candidates in order. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, then the person with the fewest votes is eliminated and their supporters’ votes are distributed to the second option. This process continues until a candidate has a majority of the vote.
“Adopting ranked-choice voting in more towns, cities and states across the country will go a long way toward reducing the polarization that plagues our politics, and it’s a way to end the two-party duopoly at the ballot box,” said Josh Silver, CEO of RepresentUs, which also works across party lines to reform the political system. “RCV gives voters more choices, it ensures that the majority of voters approve of the eventual election winner, and it saves money.”
According to Otis, 32 cities across seven states used ranked-choice voting this year, 22 of them for the first time. Local advocates, including Stan Lockhart of Utah RCV and Karl Landskroener of FairVote Minnesota, claimed their research shows ranked-choice voting is growing in popularity in their regions. Twenty Utah municipalities, including Salt Lake City, used RCV this year, joining five Minnesota cities: Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka and Bloomington.
“We’re seeing midterm-level turnout for local races,” said Landskroener, who also said RCV is having an impact on representation. He noted that for the first time, people of color will hold a majority of seats on the Minneapolis city council. In New York City, which debuted RCV primaries this year, a majority of the city council will be women for the first time following this year’s elections.
Earlier this year, Virginia Republicans used RCV for the first time to select their candidates for the state’s top three offices. Their nominees — Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears, and Jason Miyares — swept the elections for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
“The big winners in Virginia and New York City were boosted after being nominated by ranked-choice voting, while voters keep saying how much they like it, whether in blue, red, or swing parts of the country,” said FairVote CEO Rob Richie.
Eric Adams was elected mayor of New York on Tuesday after winning a closed Democratic primary.
Brendan Carroll, a senior at Saint Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows, N.Y., is an ambassador for Students for Open Primaries.
Eric Adams was just elected mayor of New York with 70 percent of the general election vote and he promises to govern with a “mandate.” Yet, there are over a million independently registered voters in the city who had no hand in choosing him as the leading candidate. Many of them, like me, are young voters.
Though I am not of voting age yet, I was able to pre-register at my local DMV upon receiving my driving permit. When prompted to choose a party, I was tempted to choose that with which I associate more commonly, but if the previous years had taught me anything, it’s that partisan politics are an unpredictable, polarized game led by mostly self-serving politicians. Partisan divides were already wreaking havoc on all walks of life, and it seemed to me very few wanted to consider issues from all possible angles.
I joined nearly half of millennials and Gen Z voters by signing up as an independent, pleased that my freedom from a party would allow me more opportunity to dictate my own path of civic engagement and limit the amount of implicit bias I would pick up from polarized splits. Little did I know, my decision could fetter me to a future of apathetic votes in general elections, in which I had only scale-tipping power for candidates whom I felt no true proclivity towards. As such, this future will likely produce a generation of discouraged voters like myself, most of whom would become biased not against one party, but elections and the political sphere as a whole.
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That’s because in New York today, our primary elections silo party voters and shut out independents like me as well as third-party voters entirely. Ironic for a state that has lately prided itself on voting innovations. Twenty-three percent of registered New York voters cannot participate in primary elections at all, despite paying for them with their tax dollars, because they are not registered as Democrats or Republicans. For example, Republicans, who are only 10 percent of registered voters in the city, get the city to pay for an election that they alone can participate in. Make sense so far?
Now it’s a pyrrhic victory for those handful of Republicans left in our city, who get “their” primary, because in the end we all know it’s the Democratic primary that really counts. With 67 percent of the city’s voters registered Democrats, it’s almost always the Democratic primary that determines the eventual winning politician. Which is why most New Yorkers were talking about the Democratic mayoral candidate, former Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, as New York’s next mayor long before Election Day. He will now represent and make decisions for every New Yorker — though 33 percent of all registered voters never even had the chance to legitimately weigh his candidacy against any others. We need a new direction.
Across the country, most cities have already enacted nonpartisan primaries. Over three quarters of U.S. cities use open, nonpartisan elections, including 23 of the 30 largest cities in the country. New York is in the small minority of cities that have failed to do so. In a nonpartisan primary, all the candidates are on one ballot and all the voters vote, with the top vote-getters moving on to the general election. In those cases, every election seeks the participation of every voter, they are far more competitive with real choices for the voters, and the elected officials that emerge from the general election are compelled to govern for everyone, not just the partisans in their party.
Would Eric Adams be our next mayor if every eligible voter had a chance to weigh in? Who knows. But we can say with certainty that every politician that comes out of an electoral system that disenfranchises directly or indirectly so many New Yorkers lacks the standing to govern for all of us.
New York has started a process of making its elections more equal and fair. But as long as we continue to administer outdated, closed and partisan primaries, New Yorkers will continue to be divided and unequal. And our elected leaders won’t have the true mandate they need to govern effectively.
It’s time to let all New Yorkers’ votes really count for the candidates they stand behind in every public election.
Afghan refugees arrive as Dulles International Airport in August.
Peric is executive director of Welcoming America, a nonprofit that promotes pluralism in local communities.
With the U.S. departure from Afghanistan, nearly 500,000 people have been displaced from their homes and are fanning out across the globe to join the 281 million people living outside their country of origin. Some will find a new place to call home in the United States. And then, the journey to become an American begins.
Though the movement of people and the welcoming of strangers have always existed, it is only recently that we’ve learned how to build sustained infrastructure to smooth these transitions. This infrastructure is essential to ensuring that demographic change gives rise to an expansion — rather than a contraction — of our democratic norms, paving the way for greater civic, social and economic participation, rather than fueling dangerous politics through the scapegoating of newcomers.
The good news for those who want to support American communities in this endeavor is that there’s a roadmap for building welcoming infrastructure laid out over decades of work. Resettlement destinations like Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake County; Lancaster, Pa.; and Louisville, Ky., have worked to systematically bring down policy barriers, establish public-private partnerships as a function within local government to address immigrant equity, and foster a culture that sends an unequivocal message of belonging, from schools to parks to community centers.
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Over the past month, this infrastructure has meant that cities like San Antonio have been able to launch a robust effort to build community support for arriving Afghan evacuees, to build a rapid response that convenes multisector partners to create a welcoming climate and, more recently, to establish an office within local government dedicated to this work.
Another example is Charlotte, N.C., a city newer to demographic change. Strong partnerships between the community and its institutions create a network of relationships that enable every sector to contribute and work toward systematically reducing barriers for newcomers. Such efforts also foster bridging capital that cuts across lines of difference in ways that reduce isolation and increase community cohesion.
“We’ve learned a lot about how to engage diverse communities,” says Emily Yaffe, an immigrant integration specialist for the city. “We’re more creative about involving local business owners, like supermarkets and hair salons. These relationships were especially important during the pandemic to connect diverse communities with information and services.”
Today, Afghan arrivals are enjoying broad support, with more than 70 percent of the public supportive of resettlement. At the same time, questions remain about how this support will translate to the long-term commitment to welcoming values, as well as to other populations, such as Haitians seeking asylum to American-born residents struggling to recover from the pandemic.
Truly welcoming communities underscore that these choices do not need to be in competition with one another — in fact, far from the chaos and zero-sum choices that nativist groups want to paint, communities with a welcoming infrastructure are successful in not only meeting the basic needs of new arrivals, but also the mutual cooperation, respect, social and economic capital that strengthens the entire community. And while there is an initial cost to resettlement, research has shown that, over time, local economies reap a significant return on investment, as much as $2.1 billion in just one Ohio community alone.
But this economic return isn’t what drives us: It’s a thriving democracy in which everyone belongs. As Yaffe notes. “We’ve changed our focus from not just how our international community contributes to our economy, but on how we become more of an integrated, inclusive city.”
For Nimish Bhatt, a former refugee from Uganda, that came in the form of representing Asian American business owners on Charlotte’s business advisory council: “People who are from other countries have this fear and complex that does not allow them to do things 100 percent. But Emily and her team have come out and been part of the community at every level, [taking] a holistic approach and making people feel they are part of this community.”
Across the country, Americans are stepping forward to ask how they can be part of welcoming Afghan refugees. From offering homes and donations, to volunteering and donating to resettlement agencies, these efforts are urgent and needed, but they are also just the starting point. Communities can and should use this moment to double down on building a long-term welcoming infrastructure that can create the conditions for everyone to thrive in the place they call home. The federal government can do more to incentivize this work, including by standing up the Task Force on New Americans. Let’s respond not only to an urgent humanitarian call, but the desire of Americans everywhere to build a lasting, thriving democracy in which everyone here belongs.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin have proposed an amendment to the Voting Rights Advancement Act in an effort to garner bipartisan support for the bill.
Senate Democrats are planning another push to advance voting rights legislation, and while this time at least one Republican is on board, the bill appears to be going nowhere.
GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has signed on to a revised version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, along with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, until now the sole Democratic holdout on the bill. Murkowski and Manchin announced Tuesday that they had reached a deal with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Patrick Leahy, lead sponsor of the bill.
However, the VRAA will still likely fall nine Republican votes short of overcoming a filibuster when the legislation is brought to the floor Wednesday afternoon for a procedural vote.
While most Republicans remain staunchly opposed to the latest version of the voting rights bill, historically the issue has been largely bipartisan. The original Voting Rights Act of 1965 was approved by a 77-19 vote in the Senate, with 30 Republicans in favor. Subsequent amendments to the Voting Rights Act were also approved in a bipartisan manner.
The most recent reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 was passed unanimously in the Senate, and 10 of the Republicans who voted in favor are still serving: Richard Burr, Susan Collins, John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, Jim Inhofe, Mitch McConnell, Lisa Murkowski, Richard Shelby and John Thune.
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“To my Republican friends in the Senate: a vote in support of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act should not be a difficult decision,” said former GOP Rep Carlos Curbelo, now a board member of the crosspartisan good-government group Issue One. “By restoring a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that prevents discriminatory voting policies, our elected leaders can proudly proclaim that voting should be accessible to all Americans — no matter your political ideology, gender, skin color or ZIP code.”
But this time around, Murkowski is the only Republican who has been willing to work with Democrats on the voting rights legislation.
“Voting rights are fundamental to our democracy and how we protect them defines us as a nation. I have supported this particular legislation in previous Congresses and continued to work with my colleagues on it, because it provides a framework through which legitimate voting rights issues can be tackled,” Murkowski said.
If the VRAA were to become law, it would restore voting protections struck down by the Supreme Court. In 2013, the court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder eliminated the preclearance requirement, which mandated certain states with histories of racial discrimination receive advanced approval from the Justice Department before enacting new voting laws. The court’s decision this summer in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee made it harder to challenge potentially discriminatory laws in court.
The amendment brought by Murkowski and Manchin builds on the original version of the VRAA, modifying which factors courts can take into account for cases of potential voting rights violations. These changes are being proposed in an attempt to garner more GOP support for the bill.
The Murkowski-Manchin amendment also incorporates provisions from the Native American Voting Rights Act to address the unique barriers faced by Native American voters on tribal lands.
“Sen. Murkowski’s support for the bill and for Native voting rights shows that she has been listening to Alaska Native voters and realizes the absolute importance of making long overdue progress to establish and protect voting rights for this land’s first peoples,” said Jacqueline De León, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund.
If Republicans block consideration of the VRAA as expected, they might tee up serious consideration of filibuster reform. Voting rights advocates have been turning up the heat on Democrats to modify or nix the procedural tool, as it has increasingly been used to block their legislative priorities.
Last month, the Freedom to Vote Act was blocked in the Senate by a GOP filibuster. A couple days later, President Biden said during a CNN town hall that he would be open to changing the filibuster rules in order to pass the Democrats’ long-stalled electoral reform legislation.
“The filibuster in its current form is poisoning our democracy. It’s way too easy for one person to block legislation that the majority of the country supports,” said Josh Silver, CEO and co-founder of RepresentUs. “There are many ways we could fix the filibuster to restore the Senate, and it’s time for the president and senators to choose saving democracy over an arcane rule.”
The Freedom to Vote Act was a compromise bill that built on the For the People Act, which was also blocked by a filibuster earlier this year.
As millions of Americans head back to the office for the first time since the pandemic hit, this episode of the How Do We Fix It podcast reminds us of creative ways to develop stronger and more productive relationships with those that we live and work with every day.
Leach, a Republican from Iowa, served in the House of Representatives from 1977 to 2007.
American political history can be traced from the framing of democratic constitutionalism to the challenge of the “Big Lie” and the narcissistic insurrection that it precipitated. Contrasting the philosophy and character traits of the first president of the United States with the most recent occupant of the White House could not be more relevant.
Several weeks before George Washington traveled to New York to take the oath of office at Federal Hall, he asked if James Madison would visit Mount Vernon to review a draft inaugural speech written by an aide. Washington gave Madison the proposed speech and asked if he would comment. After retiring to another room and reviewing the text, Madison reported to Washington that it was “terrible.”
“Why?” asked Washington, and Madison explained it had two significant faults: It was over an hour in length, which he was confident the audience of legislators would consider intolerable; and, most significantly, it failed to reflect the nature of the constitutional system that had just begun to unfold. It was too regal. Accordingly, Washington asked his fellow Virginian if he would consider presenting a different tact. Madison accepted and returned a few days later with a new draft.
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Despite old-fashioned, sometimes convoluted rhetoric, Washington’s first inaugural address provides a revealing perspective to the partisan divisions that have metastasized in recent years.
The address begins with a paragraph only the first president could have written. Indeed, no president or governor has ever begun an inaugural address as Washington did. What he chose to acknowledge to the Congress assembled in Federal Hall was a litany of his own weaknesses: 1) that his capacities were limited by inferior endowments granted to him by nature; 2) that he was unpracticed in civil administration; and 3) that in his declining years he had been wracked by frequent ravages in his health. In other words, the general who defeated one of the most powerful armies in history suggested that he was inexperienced, lacking in intelligence and in poor health.
Aside from this extraordinarily modest assessment of his personal capacities, Washington thoughtfully proceeded to stress the need for the newly defined branches of government to work together. The presidency, he pointed out under the new Constitution, had the obligation to “propose” legislative initiatives while the power to legislate was the clear province of Congress. Given the prospect that legislative turmoil could arise, he laid down three “no’s” on how public officials should avoid temptations: 1) there should be “no local prejudices” (i.e., the concerns of the national government should embody the public interest and supersede interest groups and local concerns); 2) there should be “no separate views” (i.e., states should not be allowed to secede); and 3) there should be “no party animosities” (i.e., members of Congress should respect each other).
Continuing to address motivation, Washington instead called on legislators to concentrate on following “the immutable demands of private morality.” This singular advice may seem unrealistically esoteric. Actually, it may be the most profound advice ever given to an elected official. What Washington, who uniquely distrusted political parties, recommended was for legislators to place a singular emphasis on individual judgment driven by moral concerns rather than partisan conformity or self-serving ambition.
As in other democracies, legislatures find themselves changing with the times, sometimes gradually, once in a while abruptly.
When I entered Congress in January 1977, both parties on Capitol Hill held caucuses every three or four months where reflective discussions would take place about issues coming before Congress and about elections that might be around the corner. The leadership of both parties as well as the majority of Members generally worked constructively together — although whichever party held the majority had a tendency to be somewhat arrogant at the committee level. By the time I left Congress three decades later, Members of the two legislative bodies, particularly the House of Representatives, had become increasingly disrespectful of the other party and its membership. The Congress had, in effect, become “caucus-ized.”
Party caucuses evolved into frequent closed-door meetings with attitudes more like a football team at halftime than an orchestra where musicians play assorted instruments in synch. Instead of statecraft, partisan objectives discussed in caucuses came principally to revolve around how the other side could be derailed rather than how legislation might be improved. Yet the oath of office a public official takes is not a party unity pledge. It is a commitment to uphold and defend the Constitution. Implicitly the oath legislators take requires members of Congress to honor separation of powers processes and the individual rights directives in the Bill of Rights that became more expansive as constitutional amendments were adopted.
As internal schisms grew, so did congressional dysfunction. With a breakdown in mutual trust, members increasingly considered their legislative work to be the principal province of political parties rather than the Congress as a whole. Overwhelming partisanship has the effect of denying a constructive role for a full complement of legislators, thus shielding millions of Americans from having their views considered in the legislative process.
Eight years after his delivery of the first inaugural address, Washington expanded on the concerns he initially laid out in New York by issuing his Farewell Address as he prepared to return to Mount Vernon. The Farewell Address, which included Madison’s and later Alexander Hamilton’s input, was never delivered as a speech. Rather the address was widely published as a letter in newspapers in 1796. Again, Washington advised fellow citizens to avoid excessive partisanship and recognize the importance of identifying more with the national interest than states or cities. Citizens, he warned, should be suspicious of individuals who advocate secession or suggest that the country was too big to be governed within its constitutional framework.
Whenever the national government over the years considered intervening militarily on other continents or at sea, historians and social critics traditionally found reason to emphasize Washington’s legendary warning against long-term alliances and policies that might make the country vulnerable to foreign entanglements.
What is seldom noted are the deep concerns Washington also registered against domestic intrigues, some of which had foreign influences. Washington may have had in mind aspects of Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts (1786-87) that occurred prior to his assuming the presidency and the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-94) shortly thereafter, but his concerns for insurrection appear to go deeper. Accordingly, in his Farewell Address he carefully alerted his fellow citizens about “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled” leaders of political factions who seek to “subvert the power of the people” in order to “usurp for themselves the reins of government.”
Our first president made clear for posterity that “the will of the nation” could not be replaced by “the will of a party,” especially if it breached constitutional obligations. For Washington, political parties too often sharpened “the spirit of revenge,” agitated communities with ill-founded jealousies, kindled animosities, and occasionally fomented riots and insurrections. On the other hand, Washington considered governance unity, established by the Constitution, to be a pillar in the edifice of independence and stability.
Amidst the vast challenges of the 20th century, Washington’s concern for insurrection probably seemed like an irrelevant footnote. By contrast, in this new millennium his warnings resound with contemporary relevance. Indeed, no warning to the American public could apply more presciently to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on Capitol Hill than that issued 22 decades earlier by George Washington.
Abroad, the insurrection has transformed the way friends and foes look at our governance model. Perhaps the most dangerous and lasting aspect of the insurrection relates to the way a cunning president may in the eyes of his followers legitimize violence with a narcissistic stamp of approval. One such event can lead to others and precipitate copycat insurrections in any state in the union. Our nation’s capital could even be vulnerable to similar assaults. For 230 years, the Constitution has symbolized free people working together. Now that heralded tradition is being challenged from within.
From an early age Washington cogitated on the subject of morality. As a 16 year old, he copied a small treatise composed by French Jesuits in 1595 and translated it into English. The treatise contained 110 rules of civil behavior that he was required to study, perhaps as a penmanship as well as ethics assignment. The last civility rule read: “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”
Today the spirit of America is on trial. When emotive partisanship threatens the very core of our democracy the public must insist that the ship of state be righted. One approach is to press candidates for office to publicly acknowledge, perhaps even sign a civility pledge, noting that:
Gates and Gerzon are co-directors of Philanthropy Bridging Divides, a transpartisan conversation among America’s philanthropic leaders.
In last month’s column we looked closely at our fellow citizens who do not want to bridge divides. There are clearly those who disagree with the very concept of bridging and want to fight a war to win.
But there is another group that is harder to recognize. They are the “false bridgers” or “manipulative bridgers.” Whether they are conservatives reaching out to progressives or, more commonly, progressives reaching out to conservatives, their intentions are to use the concept of bridging to advance their cause, not to find shared ground.
Based on this well-crafted, time-tested, Machiavellian language, these so-called “bridgers” use the language of listening and inclusion to in essence build a trap for their opponents.
In most cases these so-called bridging events fail, as they should. They also serve to poison the well for those who are sincere about wanting to bridge divides and hear other perspectives. We have both witnessed this professionally. People are invited into a bridging conversation that turns out to be nothing of the sort. It makes it that much harder when an authentic bridger makes a subsequent overture.
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In retrospect, these efforts often do not turn out to have been on a level playing field. Yes, the conveners have used the lexicon of negotiation and problem-solving. Yes, the hosts have worked hard to get a few “diverse voices” in the room. But all too often the “outsiders” feel not only outnumbered but ultimately unheard. The more eloquently they express their “minority” perspective, the quicker the barrage of rebuttals begins. They leave these faux bridging experiences feeling disillusioned and sometimes even used.
It is tempting but wrong to excuse these failed efforts because their architects meant well and tried hard. In our experiences most of these failed efforts were designed to persuade and convert and not find shared ground. Of course both of us applaud all well-intentioned efforts, we recognize how challenging it is to bridge across the widening chasm of polarization in America today. But we also have to be honest: False bridges cause damage.
A covert desire to persuade the “other side” using the language of bridging is dangerous. Such efforts raise hopes and then dash them. They promise progress but do not deliver. They make people skeptical about words like “bridge” or “dialogue” or “partnership.” They make it harder for anyone who later tries to build a real bridge to get support.
We encourage anyone who intends to be a catalyst for a “bridging” event or process to first step back and be honest about their intentions. If your desire is to “win,” then the conversation is not likely a bridging one. If your heart and mind are open to learning and hearing other perspectives, then your desire to bridge is authentic. Our point is not that all conversations need to be about bridging but rather that it is critical people be clear and transparent about their intentions.
Please know that the intent of this column is not to be a warning sign that reads “Keep Out!” but rather one that says “Be Intentional!” We absolutely need more skillful, thoughtful peacemakers to step into the no man’s land between the partisan armies of Left and Right and seek common ground. But we want those who meet this challenge to be safe, and to succeed — not become part of the problem that we are setting out to solve.
In our next column, we will share in more detail what we have learned about real bridging and why it matters now, more than ever.
Students at the University of Pittsburgh register their peers ahead of the 2020 election. The student voting rate last year reached an all-time high of 66 percent.
One year after the contentious presidential election, voters are headed to the polls again Tuesday to decide a slate of key statewide and municipal contests. Young people will be an especially important voting bloc to watch after they turned out in record numbers last November.
Two-thirds of college students cast a ballot in the 2020 election, according to a report released last week by Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education. This record turnout was a 14 percentage point jump from 2016, putting the student voting rate on par with the national average.
But Tuesday’s elections will also be a test of the dozens of state voting laws enacted this year. While some states expanded access to the ballot box, others tightened rules around voting. And many of these new voting barriers will have a disparate impact on students, especially young people of color.
Despite higher education and the election being upended by the pandemic, students still turned out in droves for the 2020 presidential contest. More than four-fifths of eligible student voters registered, and of those registered voters, 80 percent cast a ballot, signifying young people’s high motivation to get out the vote.
“We attribute this high level of participation to many factors, including student activism on issues such as racial injustice, global climate change and voter suppression, as well as increased efforts by educators to reach students and connect them to the issues and to voting resources,” said IDHE Director Nancy Thomas.
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Young voters face unique challenges because they are often first-time voters and they are highly mobile so their voting address is often subject to change. Educating young voters about the election process, as well as the many new laws enacted by state lawmakers this year is a high priority for civic engagement groups.
With limited in-person interactions due to Covid-19, colleges had to find innovative new ways to engage student voters. At the University of California, San Diego, school officials integrated voter registration with Covid-19 testing. Students were given a QR code to register to vote while waiting to be tested. At Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, students take a civic engagement course within their major as part of a five-year plan to encourage civic learning and participation on campus.
UCSD’s student voting rate was 71 percent in 2020, a 27-point surge from four years prior. Student turnout data for PVCC was not yet available.
The National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement is the most comprehensive analysis of college and university student voting in the country. The study has been conducted by researchers at Tufts after every general and midterm election since 2012. This fifth iteration of the study collected data from nearly 1,200 campuses of all types, including community colleges, research universities, minority-serving and women’s colleges, state universities and private institutions.
Nearly all the campuses included in the study (97 percent) saw increased voter turnout in the 2020 election. The youngest college students (18- and 19-year-olds) voted at slightly higher rates than their older peers.
Asian American students had the biggest increase in voter turnout: a 17-point jump from 2016 to 2020. While this boost was a significant improvement, Asian American student turnout (51 percent) still lagged 20 points behind white student turnout (71 percent).
At 66 percent, multiracial students had the second highest turnout rate behind white students, followed by Black students at 63 percent and Hispanic students at 60 percent.
Women students of all races and ethnicities continued to vote at higher rates than men. Overall, 64 percent of women cast a ballot in the 2020 election, compared to 58 percent of men. White women had the highest turnout rate at 73 percent, while Asian American men had the lowest at 46 percent.
Moving forward, researchers at Tufts will be exploring the different factors that motivate and hinder student voting. Those findings will be released in a second report later this fall.
In this edition of Ballotpedia’s Beyond the Headlines, the Ballotpedia team reviews the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021-2022 term, including accepted cases, upcoming argument sessions, rulings of the court, and some important statistical data.
George Tech men’s basketball coach Eric Reveno started the #AllVoteNoPlay movement for college athletics.
This year there will be no practice or games on Election Day for NCAA Division I athletes.
Thanks to #AllVoteNoPlay, student-sponsored NCAA legislation that passed unanimously last year, these athletes will instead be given time off to vote or engage in civic activity.
#AllVoteNoPlay started with Eric Reveno, associate head coach of Georgia Tech men’s basketball. It began when a polarized election pushed voting to the forefront of our national consciousness. But the spirit of #AllVoteNoPlay, as Coach Rev says, is so much bigger than voting. It’s about igniting a cultural shift in college athletics.
It’s about getting coaches to talk about civics, and changing the perception of Election Day from a day off from practice to a day on for learning, engaging and growing in civic understanding and community leadership.
Why coaches? Because 75 percent of NCAA athletes want more opportunities for civic engagement — and who’s better poised to lead, model and support their efforts than the most trusted adults in their lives?
Still, asking coaches to support their athletes’ ability to vote in a major national election is one thing. Asking them to take on a new role as civic educators is something else entirely.
“At one point in time, I thought — probably like many of you — that civics was a subject only for the classroom, [aside from] making sure my players knew where to vote on Election Day,” Coach Rev says when speaking to his colleagues in athletic programs across the country. “I’ve since learned that focusing just on voting is like thinking that our players only have to show up on game days, without putting in the hard work in between to build their skills. And I’ve learned that my players are young men of character and curiosity who want to help drive positive change in the world around them, but they need guidance from trusted adults like me to help them get there.”
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His is a quiet movement, one that’s been met with reluctance from the very people he hoped would embrace it. But slowly, a groundswell of support for #AllVoteNoPlay has bubbled up on campuses across the country. From community colleges through Division I programs, change is happening.
Drawing on the new #AllVoteNoPlay Playbook — a collection of inspiring ideas and actions curated by Vote by Design, a team of civic learning experts, athletes and coaches like Rev himself — coaches and athletes are developing their civic conditioning:
Big plans were implemented to make Nov. 2 a “day on.” Vanderbilt Athletics is organizing campus-wide activities and service. Athletes are volunteering at local schools, creating videos for children in area hospitals, mentoring Special Olympics athletes on campus and participating in campus conversations. Their visionary athletic director, Candace Storey Lee, sees the direct connection between these efforts and a larger push at Vanderbilt to commit to civic engagement and growth through ongoing conversations about privilege, race, inclusion, and learning from others through listening and active dialogue.
At Skyline Community College in California, #AllVoteNoPlay is more than just a single day. Its observances kicked off with a dedicated time for each player on the men’s basketball team to learn how to check their voter registration status, and register as needed, with their coaches’ support. The team also hosted a special guest, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa, for a team conversation about the importance of civic engagement and involvement in their local community.
Yale is getting into the spirit of #AllVoteNoPlay, led by sophomore tight end Ryan Belk, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Belk is hosting a Team Bulldog Ballot Breakfast on Nov. 2 to watch and discuss videos by Citizen University CEO Eric Liu on the power, joy and responsibility of voting and civic engagement through a “Votesgiving” gathering.
Belk isn’t the only student who’s spearheading #AllVoteNoPlay on campus. Stanford basketball player Sam Beskind, women’s water polo Coach John Tanner and others are coordinating a campus-wide celebration of #AllVoteNoPlay as part of Stanford’s Democracy Day. A student-athlete gathering at the Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (better known as the d. School) will offer hands-on “civic drills” and celebrate the university’s commitment to helping athletes engage as active, productive citizens.
And what about Coach Rev? As you might expect, the founder and champion of #AllVoteNoPlay has something special planned. He’s taking the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team to the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. There, they’ll trace the historic legacy of Atlanta in the fight for voting rights, and honor the contributions of heroes like Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and many others.
Last year, over $14 billion was spent on the 2020 election cycle. It was a record-breaking amount — nearly double the previous total — and it produced one of the most divisive campaigns in recent U.S. history. But the 2020 election also has a positive legacy to carry forward: the greatest youth voter turnout in history. With the help of #allVoteNoPlay, this movement of agency and future focus is taking root on campuses all across the country. It’s a cultural shift that started with one man, who saw his responsibility to cultivate leadership beyond the basketball court — and set a new standard for coaches everywhere.
It’s time for coaches to get more involved in civics. And they’re answering the call.
We heard from you about our “Tricks or Treats for Democracy” on Friday. Here are a few tricks that we missed:
We wish you had sent in more treats!
Voters in Virginia, one of the states that recognizes general Election Day as a legal holiday, line up to cast their ballot in the state’s highly contested governor’s race.
Tuesday is Election Day, but only in some parts of the country will voters get the day off to cast their ballots.
Voters in more than one-third of the country enjoy some form of an Election Day holiday, according to RepresentUs. Most of these 19 states’ policies only cover general elections, though.
The Freedom to Vote Act, federal legislation that would enact sweeping election reform, includes a provision that would make Election Day a national holiday for federal contests. Voting rights advocates say this simple change would significantly boost voter turnout because more Americans would have time off work to cast a ballot.
However, passing the Freedom to Vote Act remains out of reach while the Senate’s filibuster rule, which allows a minority of 40 senators to block legislation, remains in place. President Biden said during a CNN town hall last month that he would be open to filibuster changes in order to pass the Democrats’ long-stalled electoral reform legislation.
In the meantime, here are the states that already have policies givng voters time off to cast a ballot:
As election day nears, the Let’s Find Common Ground podcast speaks with two members of Congress, one Republican and one Democrat, who are reaching across rigid partisan divides, recognizing the value of compromise and seeking constructive change.
Voters line up to cast early ballots in Virginia.
While cable news and statehouses are focused on the “big lie” following the 2020 presidential election, a more insidious (and immediate) threat awaits the jurisdictions conducting elections this week: the weaponization of real vulnerabilities in election systems to falsely cast doubt on the integrity of elections overall.
One of the most surprising takeaways from the unsuccessful challenges to the 2020 election results is the level of support they’ve garnered despite being largely evidence-free. Almost no legal challenges to the presidential election were successful, the difference in vote totals (both actual and electoral) between the two major presidential election candidates was not small, and nearly every voter cast a paper ballot that could be subsequently reviewed.
Consider what could have happened if the challenges to the legitimacy of 2020 had either kernels of truth and/or were associated with a particularly close race? We have no way of knowing for certain, but it’s not a stretch to think that our already precarious democracy would be in even more dire straits.
That question may not be so speculative next week, as demonstrated by Virginia’s neck-and-neck gubernatorial contest. Putting aside the campaign rhetoric stoking the election conspiracy fire, Virginia’s election processes are not perfect. For example, Virginia audits elections every year, but only after the certification of election results. That is important but less than ideal because it means that potentially erroneous election results cannot be changed. Moreover, the post-election audit does not cover the entire state — localities are chosen at random after the election — so it’s possible that a problem somewhere in the state would not be identified in the audit.
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Along with Virginia, New Jersey also has a race for governor and an imperfect election system. Absent extraordinary circumstances, like a pandemic, New Jersey remains one of only a handful of states that rely heavily on direct recording electronic (DREs) machines that do not print a paper trail backup. DREs are more susceptible to counting errors and malicious attacks than paper-based voting systems, and their use also raises another mis- and disinformation concern: Conspiracy theorists hell bent on further undermining U.S. democracy can more easily manipulate any minor change or error during a vote count, giving false claims of rigging and hacking more traction.
While important to note, such vulnerabilities do not mean that the 2021 New Jersey and Virginia elections are likely to be compromised. Every state’s election systems can be strengthened, but that’s a far cry from having vulnerabilities that are exploited at such a scale to alter the outcome of an election.
Anyone who asserts that a U.S. election is illegitimate is making an extraordinary claim that needs to be supported by compelling and verifiable evidence. Simply noting the existence of a vulnerability does not mean it has been or will be exploited, let alone that it altered an outcome (though reporting them in a responsible, timely manner to those who work on the fronts lines of our elections can help bolster the security of elections against malign actors).
All states, including Virginia and New Jersey, have election security practices and mechanisms designed to increase confidence in election outcomes. Virginia has all paper ballots and post-election risk-limiting audits to validate its results, and there have not been any issues with the audits since the law mandating them was adopted in 2018. And while most New Jersey counties still use paperless voting on Election Day, the state has put in place a variety of measures to mitigate the accompanying risks, including cybersecurity, physical security, training, updated voting equipment and auditing. Additionally, New Jersey now offers nine days of early voting on paper-based systems and over 900,000 voters signed up to receive their ballots by mail.
It should not come as a shock if bad-faith actors try to exploit vulnerabilities in our election systems in an effort to undermine voter confidence. What would come as a shock is if such efforts succeed in altering the results of an election. I wouldn’t bet on it, but this is not a time for complacency.
Voters should be confident in the integrity of their election(s) and if they have questions about their election processes, they should turn to trusted sources of information, such as state and local election officials, who have a proven track record of putting the conduct of free and fair elections before any personal interests. Trust but verify.