Getting Electoral Reform On The Ballot And Saving Our Democracy

In the 2004 election, Republicans used ballot initiatives opposing same-sex marriage to drive voter turnout. In fact, some credit those initiatives in 11 states as driving enough social conservatives to the polls that it provided the margin of Bush’s slim victory over Kerry. The latest tactic using from the GOP using ballot initiatives is to extend voter suppression by requiring voter ID and pushing for a new Constitutional convention where special interests can actually rewrite the Constitution.

In recent years, Democrats have proposed ballot initiatives on the minimum wage and medical and legal marijuana. And those kinds of proposals will possibly be on that ballot again in a number of states. But by far the most important proposals that Democrats can make for the future, especially the 2020 election and the associated redistricting process, are related to electoral reform. The recent example of Democrats winning 10% more of the vote than Republicans across the state in Virginia but still ending up as a minority in the House of Delegates should make that explicitly clear.

According to, as of earlier this week, there was only one officially approved ballot measure focused on expanding the vote and that is a measure in Colorado for automatic voter registration via the state’s DMV. Of course, there is still plenty of time for other measures to qualify for the ballot. There is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), which has already been adopted by 10 states and DC and is potentially on the ballot in Arizona, Maine, Missouri, and Colorado. Coloradans may also be able to vote on setting up a bipartisan redistricting commission for state and Congressional districts. A bipartisan redistricting commission may also be on the ballot in South Dakota. In addition, Colorado may have an additional ballot provision that would limit the efficiency gap in district makeup to 8%. In Florida, they are trying to collect enough signatures to get the restoration of voting rights for felons on the ballot.

All of these are great initiatives, especially the NPVIC and the ones requiring bipartisan redistricting commissions and limiting the efficiency gap. But they seem to be missing in the states where they would do the most good, here extreme gerrymandering is a severe problem, such as North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Utah, Arkansas, and even in the traditionally Democratic states of Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Pundits like David Brooks and the editorial page of the Washington Post have spent decades and mountains of ink desperately searching for “centrist” solutions. But no such solution can exist when the current so-called democratic process allows a distinct minority to gain and wield the political power of the majority. The reason the Republican party has become so extreme is that a majority of its members only really have to fear a primary from the right and not a Democratic challenger. That has far less to of with the lack of or even quality of the Democratic candidates and far more to do with extreme partisan gerrymandering that Republicans have perfected in the last decade.

Steve Schmidt had a remarkable tweet storm today in which he demanded the destruction of the Republican party as currently consisted. Says Schmidt, “The Trump faction in America accounts for between 32–36 percent of voters. The overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens are aghast at the racism, malevolence, chaos and corruption of this administration. November 2018 will present an opportunity to deliver a massive repudiation of Trumpism. Fire is part of the natural life cycle of the forest. It destroys the forest but also purifies and renews it so that the cycle of life can begin again. So it must be for the Trump-Republican party. Only through repudiation and defeat can it be renewed. The corrupted, rotten and complicit Republican majority that is abetting this Presidents damage to our institutions, national security and domestic tranquility must face electoral annihilation. A massive coalition of Democrats, independent and appalled Republicans must come together to deliver a message to the world that the American people will defend our Republic and the inheritance bequeathed to us by previous generations. A righteous anger is building in this country and it must be channeled in to the 2018 elections. Enough. Defeat them all.”

Schmidt is absolutely correct. But the renewal he desires will not take place without real electoral reform. Without it, others with the same attitudes will soon take the place of this year’s defeated Republicans. For the past two decades, Republican policy has been to obstruct Democrats at every turn and push the most extreme positions when they were in power. Even when Democrats offered things that Republicans ostensibly claimed they wanted, such as the “Grand Bargain” in 2011, Republicans refused the deal. Because of that, this country has been unable to deal with the real problems confronting it — the need to rebuild our infrastructure, to ameliorate the negative effects of globalization on certain regions and populations, to provide high-speed broadband access to all Americans, to provide some degree of universal health care, and even tackling the potential negative effects of our debt. All of these policies will actually benefit Republican constituencies but can barely be approached in the current super-partisan environment.

This isn’t simply about getting more Democrats in Congress and state legislatures. It is about creating a fair and equitable system where all of the people in this country are truly represented. And with a functioning Republican and Democratic party, we may actually be able to confront the enormous challenges the 21st century will bring as well as providing a chance to address the needs of all our citizens. Yes, that may be a little too utopian desire but we will only be able to get closer to it with some real electoral reform. Without it, and the destruction of the Trumpist Republican party, our democracy may end. And one of the ways to get voters to actually focus on electoral reform is to actually get it on the ballot.

Originally published at on January 14, 2018.