Today, millions of Americans are voting or have voted for a variety of local, state, and federal offices and for various ballot initiatives. By doing so, they took part in a proud American tradition of choosing our leadership and our policies that stretches back since the nation’s founding.
But the American electoral system that governs this process is far from perfect. The candidates on many Americans’ ballots had to spend tens of millions of dollars to be competitive, pandering to powerful special interests to build their war chests. Americans’ choices are limited by a ballotting process that discourages multi-party democracy. And many voters can’t even get off work to vote. On this election day, ThinkProgress presents three critical reforms that would overhaul America’s system of representative democracy, making it more meaningful and robust:
– Publicly Finance All Federal Campaigns: According to Federal Elections Commission data collected by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, more than $3.98 billion was spent on elections this campaign season. Much of this money comes from powerful corporate interests. For example, the finance, real estate, and insurance industries — who have keen interest in legislation dealing with financial reform, the mortgage market, and other major issues — alone contributed a whopping $216 million this season. Candidates for office feel obliged to tap into the wallets of these special interests in order to get their messages out and run competitive campaigns. The only major alternative is to self-fund, which has resulted in campaigns like that of California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. Whitman spent $140 million of her run for the Governor’s mansion. An electoral system that relies candidates to either be super-wealthy or pander to powerful special interests in order to fundraise is broken. A better system would be to publicly finance viable candidates. The bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act would allow candidates who received a qualifying number of small contributions to receive public financing for their campaigns, meaning they are accountable only to the general public, not special interests. Campaign finance experts estimate that as little as $6 from every American would be enough to publicly finance all federal campaigns.
– Enact Instant Runoff Voting Nationwide: American politics is overwhelmingly dominated by two major political parties: the Democratic and Republican parties. Yet polling shows that Americans, by a wide margin, feel that there needs to be more diversity and more choices in the American political system. The dilemma that voters have always faced when it comes to voting for third parties or independent candidates involves not wanting the “greater evil” to win. For example, progressive voters who do not want to vote for a conservative Democrat are afraid that by voting for a progressive third party candidate, they will be enabling a more conservative Republican to win by denying the Democrat votes. Instant runoff voting (IRV) would eliminate this problem. Instant runoff voting would allow voters to rank their choices on the ballot. If their first choice fails to garner enough votes to win, their votes will instantly be lumped onto their second choice, so on and so forth. So in the aforementioned example, if the third party progressive failed to win, a voter could choose to have their votes go directly to the conservative Democrat, making it so that they no longer have to choose the “lesser evil.” Additionally, IRV saves money by eliminating the need for runoffs. IRV systems continue to spread across the country, with the state of North Carolina using it for the first time today.
– Make Voting Day A National Holiday And Allow For Same-Day Registration: Unfortunately, nationwide voting for federal elections is always located on a weekday. Because of this, voting is a major obstacle for workers who feel like they have to choose between a paycheck and a ballot. While 30 states have laws that mandate voting time for employees, 20 states do not. Making voting day a national holiday would both make it easier for millions of Americans to vote and provide workers with more well-deserved time off. Additionally, allowing for voters to register the same day that they vote would boost voter turnout and cut down on bureaucracy.
The electoral system that Americans are utilizing today is a gift given to them by centuries of struggles by their forefathers. Yet one of the most admirable features of this system is that it has evolved over time, becoming more democratic and holistic. By enacting these progressive reforms, our country can make our system more accountable, more transparent, and more accessible, more fully realizing the dream that this is a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address.