The Civic Voice: Why democracy needs good news – The Fulcrum
Voting rights legislation named for the late Rep. John Lewis is a potential bright spot for democracy, writes Carney.
Author and policy expert Robert Kagan drew broad notice with his Washington Post essay declaring that the nation is “already in a constitutional crisis” and may be on the cusp of “mass violence,” but he is hardly the first to forecast democracy’s demise.
Headlines like “Will 2024 Be the Year American Democracy Dies?” and books with titles like “How Democracies Die” and “Twilight of Democracy” have become commonplace in the post-Trump era.
The apocalyptic tone of much democracy writing is unsurprising given the magnitude of the crises facing the nation and world. But there is a danger that bleak alarmism can itself corrode democracy still further. The “genre of disaster prediction,” as newsletter writer Robert Hubbell dubbed it in his response to Kagan, tends to stoke paralysis and despair.
This very demoralization is toxic to democracy. When the Economist Intelligence Unit first downgraded the United States from a “full” to a “flawed” democracy in 2017, it was because public trust in political institutions had tanked. “Popular confidence in government and political parties is a vital component of the concept of democracy” embodied by the index, the report noted.
When journalists, thought leaders and even democracy advocates harp exclusively on the ways government and institutions have failed, citizens lose faith. And without at least some faith in the system, Americans drop out. If all is lost in any case, why vote, speak up, follow the news, or engage in community and civic life?
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That’s why democracy advocates must go beyond prophesying doom and do the hard work of envisioning, and championing, a path forward. It’s not that dire warnings aren’t called for, or threats not real. It’s that raising the alarm is not enough. Indeed, relentless doomsaying risks obscuring the opportunities that can arise from moments of disruption.
This column, The Civic Voice, will spotlight civic solutions and success stories as an antidote to ’round-the-clock bad news. As solutions-focused sites like the Solutions Journalism Network, the Good News Network and the new online magazine Reasons to Be Cheerful attest, Americans are thirsty for a bit of hope.
The value of good news goes beyond spreading cheer. Publishing a story about what’s working “is the ultimate form of holding power to account,” said Reasons to Be Cheerful co-editor Christine McLaren in an interview. That’s because “it’s giving people a story to point to and say, ‘Look! It doesn’t need to be this way! There are people doing it differently and here’s how.'”
Spreading good news may sound “corny,” acknowledged journalist Roxanne Patel Shepelavy, writing about “Where to Find Hope” in The Philadelphia Citizen. But hope is more important than ever, “because we can’t heal what ails us if we don’t think a cure exists.”
So where can democracy advocates find hope? Here are a few signs that American democracy, while buffeted on many fronts, has as much (if not more) potential to revive and thrive as to collapse with a whimper.
Voting Rights. The unprecedented state-level assault on voting rights since the 2020 election, stoked by Donald Trump’s “Big Lie,” constitutes perhaps the most direct threat to American democracy today.
Yet on the good-news front, Arizona Republicans’ highly criticized 2020 vote audit reaffirmed that “truth is truth,” and gave President Biden an even bigger win. And the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore key Voting Rights Act protections, is winning serious attention on Capitol Hill.
A surprising number of states, moreover, are making it easier to vote, not harder. While 19 states have enacted 33 laws that limit voting since the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, the number of laws that expanded voter access is actually far larger, totaling 62 in 25 states.
These laws to facilitate voting, with measures like expanded early nd mail-in voting, “do not balance the scales,” the Brennan Center asserts. But according to The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon Jr., the voting rights expansion is one of several “groundbreaking initiatives” in blue states, from “Baby Bonds” in Connecticut to greenhouse gas cuts in Oregon, that offer “a vision for a better America.”
Constitutional Reforms. On Capitol Hill, as breathless reports remind us daily, partisan and intraparty disputes have stalled infrastructure legislation and placed the nation at risk of default. But such congressional stalemates themselves may usher in important constitutional changes, argued John F. Kowal and Wilfred U. Codrington III recently in Politico.
Constitutional amendments tend to come in waves and “typically have followed periods of deep division and gridlock like ours,” wrote Kowal and Codrington, who authored a book on the topic. “In fact, history suggests that periods of extreme political polarization, when the normal channels of legal change are blocked off due to partisan gridlock and regional divides, can usher in periods of constitutional reform to get the political system functioning again.”
People Power. Election law expert Richard Hasen’s law review article warning that partisans in state legislatures, election offices and even the Supreme Court may usurp voters’ choices in 2024 was plenty sobering.
But Hasen’s article also emphasized that voters have a way of having the last word. He noted that public pushback helped defeat some of the worst elements of recent state-level voting restrictions, and that organizing and political action “will be needed to reinforce rule-of-law norms in elections.” He also suggested “preparing for mass, peaceful protests in the event of attempts to subvert fair election outcomes.”
Hasen’s article prompted yet another flurry of articles on democracy’s possible collapse. But Hasen’s analysis spoke not just of gloom, but also hope. Democracy will be stronger if the hopeful side of the story gets out as well.
Republican Glenn Youngkin speaks to supporters on election night, when he was chosen as the next governor of Virginia.
Originally published by The 19th.
During the recent years that Democrats had new political power in the Virginia legislature, they helped expand health insurance for low-income people, lifted restrictions on abortion access, expanded anti-discrimination protections and made it easier to vote. Now, with Republicans’ wins in Tuesday’s elections up and down the ballot, the state’s legislative priorities are set to change, a shift that could have broad implications for women and LGBTQ+ people.
Republican Glenn Youngkin’s defeat of Democrat Terry McAulliffe, along with GOP gains in the state legislature, will give Youngkin, a former private equity executive, a level of legislative power that some Democrats predict could stifle abortion access, LGBTQ+ rights and voting rights. It could also have ramifications on education, a major focus of Youngkin, who campaigned both on expanding the budget and increasing teacher pay but also restricting lessons in public schools on the role of racism in American history.
Republican Winsome Sears made history Tuesday night, becoming the first woman to be elected lieutenant governor and the first woman of color to win any statewide office. Her tie-breaking power in the state Senate — where Democrats have a slim majority and no seats were up for election this year — could prove pivotal for conservative policymaking. During her campaign, Sears expressed opposition to abortion, as did Youngkin, and support for a Texas law that effectively banned the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.
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Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said she expects newly emboldened Virginia Republicans to introduce anti-abortion legislation. She said the focus will be on blocking them in the Senate. Lockhart emphasized the election results should not deter people from seeking abortion services in Virginia.
“Today I’m thinking of patients and what this shift means for them and also means for the medical providers that are providing compassionate health care,” she told The 19th.
During her victory speech, Sears did not discuss abortion. She said she would focus on “the business of the commonwealth,” including funding historically Black colleges and universities, cutting taxes, making neighborhoods safer and ensuring children get a “good education.”
Tuesday’s preliminary election results show Republicans are likely to flip the House of Delegates, a chamber that Democrats won just two years ago. Since then, they expanded abortion access by removing restrictions on abortion provider facilities, ultrasound requirements and mandatory counseling. The Democratic-controlled legislature also passed anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people and expanded early voting.
“At this point, we have to just be on defense with those issues,” said Del. Danica Roem, who was the first out transgender person to be elected and serve in a state legislature and who won a third term Tuesday.
More broadly, Republicans rejoiced at their political fortunes, which extended beyond the state. Their candidate in the New Jersey governor’s race closely trailed the Democratic incumbent, and the party won big in statewide judicial races in Pennsylvania.
“This is what can happen when state Republicans run races with the right candidates, the right messages, and data-driven tactics,” the Republican State Leadership Committee shared on social media.
Christina Polizzi, national press secretary for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said the party expected an “uncertain political environment” in the leadup to Tuesday. But she noted that Democratic incumbents in several competitive districts in Virginia suburbs also kept their seats.
“The reality is, in those districts, our incumbents in the legislature held on because of their accomplishments, not in spite of them,” she said.
Democrats’ trifecta of government control during the 2021 legislative session in Virginia meant it did not advance bills that popped up in Republican-controlled legislatures around the country. That legislation included a record number of abortion restrictions, anti-trans proposals and voting restrictions.
During the campaign, Youngkin expressed opposition to marriage equality, alarming advocates. Youngkin told the Associated Press that he feels “called to love everyone” but when asked if he supports same-sex marriage, said, “No.” Youngkin said he would support the law, which he described as “legally acceptable.”
More from The 19th
On a conference call with members of the press, Roem, a Democrat, predicted Republicans will file “a lot of bad bills” that they may not intend to pass but want Democrats to vote on to create a voting record for future elections.
Roem said she plans to file a series of bills aimed at addressing flaws in Virginia’s adult guardianship system and hopes to work with Republican colleagues.
“We are at least at a place where I think that House Republicans, along with the governor, are going to have to understand that they have to work with a Democratic-held state Senate,” Roem said. “In that case, if they want to get stuff passed, as opposed to just making headlines, what it means is that they’re going to have to come together in a way on, ‘OK, what bills can we deal with that are not inherently partisan?”
Much of Youngkin’s closing argument was based on the role of public schools. In addition to promising to increase teacher pay and schools’ budgets, he said parents should have more say in the curriculum and also greater access to charter schools. Much of the discussion of curriculum, in Virginia as in races around the country, was tied to accusations that students were being taught “critical race theory,” an advanced academic framework and critics have broadly applied to lessons that teach about racism’s role in U.S. history. The argument is seen as designed to appeal to White parents, with activists showing up at school board meetings to argue that their children are being taught that their race makes them bad.
“Friends, we’re going to embrace our parents, not ignore them.” Youngkin said in his victory speech. “We’re going to press forward with a curriculum that includes listening to parents’ input, a curriculum that allows our children to run as fast as they can, teaching them how to think, enabling their dreams to soar. Friends, we are going to reestablish excellence in our schools.”
While McAuliffe highlighted plans to expand paid sick leave and a $15 minimum wage, a bulk of his focus was also on trying to tie Youngkin to former President Donald Trump, who lost the state by 10 points in 2020.
Instead, preliminary exit polling shows Youngkin — who expressed support for the former president but did not wholeheartedly embrace him — had the more effective message.
Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist who did not support Trump, said that the results in Virginia’s gubernatorial race showed that “Trump is on the ballot for the people he attracts and not on the ballot for the people he repels.”
“The big thing I’ve been seeing across all the focus groups is the Trump voters were filled with rabid enthusiasm about going out to vote for any living breathing Republican,” she said.
“It looks to me like the enthusiasm gap isn’t that Democrats didn’t turn out, it’s that Republicans turned out, and over-performed in these rural districts — there’s pent-up enthusiasm for Republicans that’s almost overwhelming.”
As Democrats survey what Virginia means ahead of the midterm elections, some are thinking that McAuliffe’s loss shows the need for diverse faces in politics. A’shanti Gholar, president of Emerge, a candidate recruitment organization for Democratic women, said on the same conference call with Roem that some Democratic candidates across Virginia outperformed the former governor.
“Virginia should serve as a warning to Democrats that if we remain complacent and don’t put in the work to run candidates who speak to the most pressing issues facing this country, 2022 will be a rough year at every level of office,” she said.
Political strategist Alencia Johnson, a veteran of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign and Planned Parenthood, said that “maybe, just maybe, Democrats will finally realize that running moderate White men isn’t the answer to galvanize our base of young people and people of color.”
Johnson said while she’ll always support Democrats who win their party’s nomination, “But until then? It’s time for new leadership. Especially as the GOP’s racist and sexist culture wars are working for their base.”
Johnson added that Democrats are tired of fighting against Trump’s legacy and should instead focus on inspiring candidates or popular policies such as paid family leave, which House Republicans today said would be back in Biden’s Build Back Better plan, though its ultimate fate is unclear. Voting rights legislation has also stalled amid Republican opposition.
“We need something to fight for, something to believe in,” she said.
Today, The Fulcrum continues its biweekly feature “What is Your Take?” where we ask our readers a question and share various responses.
We look forward to engaging with our readers as we create a dialogue around different topics and issues that are important to all of us.
This week’s new question is: Which current investigations will be wrapped up by January, and which will drag into the mid-term season?
Please share your responses by emailing [email protected]
Last time, we posed the following question: What should be next for voting and election reforms in the United States?
Y’all had some opinions!
Vote for change
I have narrowed my election issues to three: vote by mail (vote at home) as conducted in Oregon; removing the de facto citizen status afforded by the Citizens United ruling from corporations (profit and nonprofit) so they cannot fund elections; and remove the artificial cap on the number of seats in the House using the Wyoming Rule so the number of representatives equitably reflects the number of citizens (making moot the gerrymandering dance we suffer every 10 years).
Constitutional amendment and increase penalties
Laws are not enough. They can always be changed or circumvented. The Constitution allows states to control voting in the states. So we need a constitutional amendment that bans all forms of voter suppression and infringement, and requires significant penalties (such as life in prison).
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Let the states decide
Voting and election reforms belong to the states themselves. No part of the Constitution authorizes the federal government authority on that. Any federal legislation on the subject is beyond its authority and unconstitutional.
~ John G.
Ranked order and make it easier to Vote (as we do in Colorado).
We at RepresentUs/New Jersey are doing everything we can to alert folks to the democracy threats to our nation and the imperative need for action on the Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and updating the 19th-century Electoral Count Act (from the Tilden-Hayes scandal).
We need to carve out an exception to the filibuster for voting rights, as we’ve done for certain budgetary matters and Supreme Court appointments, so this critical pending legislation can be passed.
It is hard to know exactly which one/set of targeted measures will have the greatest impact, in the shortest period of time — and the urgency is underscored by states’ ability to restrict voting rights as we have seen.
Voting reform: Modernize the system that is antiquated. Institute automatic registration and early voting — both key to ensuring that all can vote.
Legal measures: Raise the bar that states have to overcome before initiating any voter suppression laws.
Get the private money out of campaigns.
The United States has always had an imperfect electoral system, run by states, counties and cities. We should think long and hard before imposing a top-down system that would be run to federal specifications, decided by government officials and lawmakers in Washington.
I believe that it should be easier to vote in many states and that elections should be held on holidays. But election security is a legitimate concern. When reporting restrictions in one state (Texas, for example), the media should compare its voting rules in others. We don’t have early voting in New York and Connecticut. There are no drop-off boxes. It is easier to cast a ballot in many Republican-run states than in much of the North East and Mid West.
Too often, voting and election integrity have been reported as merely a partisan concern. While there are alarming cases of voting discrimination in some red states (Georgia and Texas are examples), and interference by state legislatures (Georgia and Arizona), the overall picture is less clear. Democratic-run New York City has an appallingly inefficient vote count, whereas Florida does very well. Utah, Oregon and Colorado are examples of red and blue states with efficient mail-in and online voting.
As with so many problems we face, the solutions are debatable, nuanced and complex.
We need to ensure integrity in the actual votes cast and counted. Electronic vote scanning and tabulation alone leave the system terribly vulnerable.
Linda Paine, founder of Election Integrity Project California, along with others such as Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True The Vote, would be people to engage for the details of how to do so. I know and trust them both.
It is hard to see a way forward on voting rights when those bills apparently lack the support of even moderate GOP senators like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins. I’m sure my calls to the offices of my Tennessee senators fell on deaf ears. Ending the filibuster might do more harm than good in the long run.
It is tough sledding for those of us who value middle ground, cooperation, and compromise. But keep trying; I support your efforts.
In recent years, voting has been the subject of considerable debate, including whether voting is a right or a privilege. The reality is that voting is a right, a privilege, and more importantly, a responsibility. Although voting is a right, it is not a fundamental God-given right in the same way that life and liberty are. It is a right that is accorded under a democratic (small d) system by a governmental authority, in which the citizens engage in a measure of self-determination. Should self-determination be a fundamental right of every human being? The answer to that question may be “yes,” but there are many more restrictive systems that seem to work, even separate and apart from open voting processes. That said, voting is a privilege, in that those citizens who choose to vote–to participate in the electoral process–are privileged to be able to have that right. Privilege, however, should not attach based on any restrictive factor; once given in a society, that privilege needs to be available on an equal and equitable basis, without regard to any particular classification and without discrimination. That said, the most important consideration is the operation of the voting process in a responsible manner and the responsible exercise of the right and privilege of voting.
In order to maintain the integrity of a voting system, the laws and regulations need to be sufficient to safeguard the validity of every legitimate vote and yet not be so restrictive that they prevent qualified voters from exercising their voting rights. This delicate balance has sometimes been difficult to maintain, and has often been abused in the interest of advancing a particular agenda or discriminating against particular classifications of individuals. It is, however, the responsibility of the governing authority to maintain that balance as best it can. Voting laws need to be viewed in context, and not simply as individual provisions. Measures that impose too many requirements or that cause voters to be too distant or the polling places to be too distant need to be re-examined and revised. If a law or regulation would impose an undue burden on those qualified to vote, then the law or regulation must be changed in order for the system to operate properly. Conversely, if a system is so lax that it allows for rampant abuse, the governmental authority has no choice but to impose reasonable restrictions.
Voters are responsible for ensuring that their voting rights are exercised with a clear understanding of the gravity of their actions. Whether a vote is exercised in-person or by mail, that vote needs to be submitted honestly and honorably, and with full knowledge and understanding of what that vote represents. Some measures, such as voter identification, are not overly restrictive and protect, not only the voting mechanism but the voters themselves, in that their vote is safeguarded against abuse by another person claiming their vote. Voters need to maintain an awareness that their vote matters, and that without their participation, the business of government would not proceed honestly, efficiently, and most importantly, effectively for making the lives of those living in the country better than they would have been without the vote.
Carlson, a high school science teacher in Royal City, Wash., is a volunteer for RepresentUs, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for a broad array of democracy reforms.
The conservative values I was raised with and maintain to this day lead me to the conclusion that the filibuster has to be reformed or abolished. The filibuster hinders our modern political discourse and has a corrosive impact on Congress.
The filibuster allows our politicians to act without integrity, because they can too easily blame their inability to pass legislation on the filibuster. They tell us time and again they wish they could enact the agenda they ran on, but can’t because of the filibuster. Therefore, many people don’t even really expect politicians to keep their campaign promises — and the politicians know it. If the filibuster were eliminated, our legislators would have no excuse for their inaction.
The filibuster also allows politicians to hide from accountability. A filibuster is not automatic on every bill. A specific politician has to call for it. Filibusterers in the Senate know that filibusters generate very little press coverage. The media talks at length about how senators choose to vote, but the matter of a non-vote does not generate or sustain anywhere near the level of coverage. When the Senate fails to vote on measures month after month after month, those who are responsible for this inaction are never held accountable — and they know it. This allows them to block popular and necessary legislation time and time again and pay no political price for doing so.
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There is no reason to think the authors of the Constitution would have supported our modern filibuster and every reason to think they would have been appalled. It’s true that the Framers wanted it to be hard to pass laws. George Washington asked Thomas Jefferson why he poured coffee into a saucer. “To cool it,” answers Jefferson. Washington replied, “Even so, we would pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”
Note that the coffee is poured into a saucer to be cooled prior to drinking, not poured to be discarded. Filibustered legislation that arrives “hot” from the House simply dies. The For the People Act arrived at the Senate as a “hot” piece of legislation. The bill was then “cooled” using the filibuster, reworked and reintroduced as the Freedom to Vote Act. But this new legislation was also filibustered, despite being rewritten to incorporate Republican Party ideas, such as a voter ID standard. As long as the filibuster remains intact, politicians will use it to prevent anything from being done that they perceive as damaging to partisan interests, regardless of the benefit to America.
Defenders of the filibuster say that it encourages bipartisanship. The evidence, however, points in the opposite direction. The last decade has seen an unprecedented surge in the number of filibusters, along with increased partisan polarization. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the filibuster causes partisanship, it shows that it certainly doesn’t help. If a minority party knows that legislation will pass, they will be incentivized to work with the majority party to shape the legislation as much to their liking as possible. Under the filibuster, no such incentive exists. Indeed, the incentive runs the other way, as the filibuster will protect one party’s interests while simultaneously shielding politicians from being held accountable for partisan behavior.
Conservatives should be loudly clamoring for fixing the filibuster. I encourage you to reach out to your senator and ask that they do what is necessary to allow legislation to be passed and our country to move forward.
Infrastructure has been the bedrock to America’s development, progress, and dreams. Roads to highways, dams, bridges, electric grids, railways and then airports and now internet and more. Can we learn from history, assess current needs, understand the economics and have a vision for our future? The Network for Responsible Public Policy discusses those questions and more in this video roundtable.
A generation raised on social media and with far different priorities would write a vastly different Constitution than any of its predecessors.
Thomas Jefferson would have loved TikTok. He would have been a fierce champion of a generation of Americans — labeled Gen Z, or iGen — who grew up with cell phones in their hands, a strong penchant for escapism and an outsized regard for social media influencers.
You see, for Jefferson, it was all about thwarting tyranny. The opening lines of the Declaration of Independence herald his conviction: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands which have connected them with another,” he wrote, “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish [the existing government], and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” His loathing of King George III on full display.
But those same sentiments and that same loathing, Jefferson would argue, should now be directed squarely at him. And at Madison. And Hamilton. At Adams and, yes, even George Washington. America’s most eloquent 18th century wordsmith knew that tyranny was not the sole estate of a mad king. Despotism can also come in the form of one generation holding unconstrained political authority over another. “The earth belongs in usufruct to the living, the dead have neither rights nor powers over it,” he famously wrote to James Madison, by which he meant that one generation has no more right to regulate the lives and liberty of another than does a foreign power have the right to oppress its colonial subjects. Today’s Americans, he would say, should shed the chains that unjustly bind them to the founding generation.
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And that means rewriting the Constitution.
To snap out of our current political funk, Jefferson would implore us to return to Philadelphia to design a new fundamental law that reflects a 21st century spirit. But it’s not just any constitutional framer who should be invited, and it’s definitely not those, like me, from the silent or baby boomer generations. No, the stately Virginian would insist that there is little difference in a Constitution written by a generation or two removed from the current one as there is in a Constitution drafted more than 10 generations ago. Both are tyrannical.
One bold idea to revitalize and renew the American political experiment is thus not new at all; it is the Jeffersonian idea that America’s latest generation — iGen/Gen Z — deserves, and indeed has the sole right, to organize a constitutional drafting party.
A federal Constitution drafted by iGen framers would look a good deal different than one prepared by other generations. A recent study reveals that seven in 10 members of the iGen community favor an “activist” and energetic government, one that “should do far more than our current political institutions to solve America’s social and political ailments.” Sixty percent of the silent generation and 50 percent of baby boomers favor the exact opposite.
And that’s not all. 43 percent of the right or Republican-leaning iGen cohort acknowledge serious racial injustice in America, more than double the right or Republican-leaning baby boomers (20 percent).
Only 15 percent of the iGen generation views same-sex marriage as a “bad thing,” whereas 32 percent of baby boomers and a full 43 percent of the silent generation condemn it.
Our most educated generation ever, iGen members favor broader constitutional rights, including textual protections for the environment, health care and the many social welfare safety nets. The same cannot be said for more senior generations, the ones that typically are recruited to compose modern constitutions.
The iGen generation wants stronger presidents, more aggressive legislatures and more activist courts. The silent generation and the baby boomers, in contrast, want to temper Alexander Hamilton’s “energetic” executive, corral judicial activism and hold members of Congress close to the vest.
The members of iGen likely would favor a parliamentary system of government and alternative methods of voter choice (including ranked-choice voting). Older generations will doubtless gravitate to the status quo, the system of government most familiar — and most beneficial (profitable?) — to a population that enjoys a privileged financial, political and social station. There is a reason most newly drafted constitutions around the world and at the state level resemble the U.S. model.
To be sure, iGen trendd more conservative — more libertarian, really — but (ironically given his reputation for cutthroat partisanship) this is not a partisan end-around for Jefferson. It’s about a just democracy, equitable representation and political legitimacy.
Those on the left have to understand that an iGen Constitution might include stronger gun rights and safeguards for digital freedom, while those on the right have to recognize that such a document likely would outlaw capital punishment, support abortion rights and legalize marijuana use. The iGens defy traditional partisan categories, and that’s a good thing in a highly polarized, tribalist environment.
Almost 70 million Americans comprise the iGen village. A bold suggestion? Give their representatives a shot at crafting a constitutional document that reflects the world they will principally shape. Invite their delegates to Philadelphia to imagine a political design that exhibits their unique perspectives and their distinctive priorities. Give them pen and parchment and trust that they are capable of “establishing good government from reflection and choice.” And then let Jefferson’s unheeded refrain that “the earth belongs to the living” resound.
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.
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?
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.