Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

TONIGHT, May 31st


Daley Oped on Missouri Legislature’s attack on the will of the voters

Republicans Have a New Plan to Thwart the Will of the People


A Missouri initiative would undo voters’ preference for nonpartisan legislative districts — and perhaps shift representation itself.

By David Daley

Mr. Daley is the author of “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.

May 21, 2020

When Karl Rove laid out the Republican plan to win back power by weaponizing redistricting in a March 2010 op-ed, Democrats failed to pay proper attention.

The vision set forth — called Redmap, short for the Redistricting Majority Project — proved simple yet revolutionary: In most states, legislatures control the decennial redistricting that follows the census. So in November 2010, Republicans invested tens of millions of dollars in these ordinarily sleepy local races and swept elections.

Through gerrymandering, they drew themselves huge advantages in Congress and state capitals, firewalls that have allowed Republicans in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan and elsewhere to survive wave elections in which Democratic state legislative candidates won hundreds of thousands more votes.

It’s a census-year election again, and this time both sides understand the stakes. Democrats know down-ballot elections this fall are the last opportunity to close the redistricting gap before next decade’s maps are drawn.

Republicans appear to have a different strategy for 2020 — subtler, more technical and instructed by successful legal challenges that overturned Republican-drawn maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.

Last week, Republicans in Missouri presented a dress rehearsal of this plan. If left unchallenged, it could once again dye many states red for a decade or more.

In 2018, nonpartisan movements in five states, including Missouri, won redistricting reform via ballot initiative. (Oregon, Oklahoma and Arkansas are attempting to follow suit.)

So last week, Missouri lawmakers looked to dismantle the initiative — called Clean Missouri and supported by 62 percent of the state’s voters — that would have taken mapmaking authority away from politicians and handed it to a nonpartisan state demographer. If Republicans have their way, that demographer won’t draw a single line and control over maps will be returned to a commission of party insiders.

That’s not all they want to do, and it’s entirely likely that the fine print tucked inside this proposal will make its way into redistricting bills in Republican-controlled state capitals nationwide.

First, the new bill would add language to the state constitution that makes it harder for Missouri citizens to gain legal standing to challenge a gerrymandered map in court. Voters living in districts intentionally “packed” with members of one political party — which allows a mapmaker to hand the surrounding seats to their own side — would not be eligible to argue that their rights have been harmed by a statewide plan, because they were still able to elect a member of their choosing within their own specific district.

Second, under the new plan, if a legal challenge did make it into the courts, the state constitution would limit the remedies available to judges. A judge would not be able to throw out the entire map as unconstitutional but merely to order smaller changes to individual districts — essentially retaining most of the advantages embedded into the map by partisans.

The Clean Missouri proposal required the state demographer to draw a map that reflected Missouri’s overall political balance. The legislature’s new plan would have insiders drawing a map that prioritized compactness. In a state like Missouri, where Democratic voters are concentrated in two cities at opposite ends of the state, weighting the criteria in favor of compactness would artificially benefit the party whose voters are spread more efficiently across the state.

While the Clean Missouri plan required a map that achieved “partisan fairness” as closely as practical, the Republican plan allows for a much looser calculation of partisan fairness — which would allow for a map that is more gerrymandered than some of the nation’s most one-sided maps in Wisconsin and North Carolina.

Perhaps most dramatically, the Republican plan would open the door to drawing state legislative districts in a way that could shift the essence of representation itself. The longtime standard has been to count everyone — the total population — when drawing up equally populated legislative districts.

Republicans, however, have urged states to redistrict based on voting-age population instead — and so count only American citizens over the age of 18. What impact would this switch have? Before his death in 2018, the Republican redistricting mastermind Thomas Hofeller completed a study to assess the impact of drawing political maps that were based not on a state’s total population — the current practice virtually everywhere in the nation — but on citizens of voting age. Looking at Texas, he concluded that the switch would pull power away from cities and toward older, rural populations. It would also, he said, “be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”

Last summer, at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s gathering of conservative lawmakers, a panel of Republican election experts urged state legislators to redistrict based on voting-age population as well.

The redistricting wars of 2021 will not be the same as 2011. The effort in Missouri should ring alarm bells that failed to go off after what amounted to a warning from Mr. Rove 10 years ago.

Republicans are looking ahead and planning carefully. If Democrats look to win last decade’s battle and fail to fight this one, they’ll be staring at another decade in the wilderness — and America’s creep toward anti-majoritarianism will accelerate.

David Daley (@davedaley3) is the author of “UNRIGGED: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy” and “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Ben Walton and Diana Dakey

Chapter 5: Native Americans fight back

Ben Walton

Ben Walton (r) with David Daley

The story of the Navajo in San Juan County, Nevada and the Native American counties in North Dakota is a story of the endurance of patriotic spirit.

In San Juan County, Nevada, a man by the name of Gray Eyes was unlawfully removed from the ballot. This was done by city officials and representatives who claimed that Gray Eyes did not live in the state of Nevada, but Arizona, even though he had provided adequate documentation of his property and activity of his business. Ultimately, the judge ruled in favor of Gray Eyes and he was immediately reinstated on the ballot. After Grey Eyes won the election, he said to a reporter “Whatever they do, it is just a game, a political game and the only way to address it is not to give up.”

In North Dakota, the 3 counties of Sioux, Benson, and Turtle Mountain are home to more than 90% of the Native American population. New voter ID laws directly targeted the commonly known fact that reservations do not have addresses. Of course, the state was no help in trying to rectify the situation. So, in response, people began to step up. In only 25 days, leaders needed to map out and assign addresses to the homes within the reservation, print new tribal IDs and get people to the voting station. This was an incredibly daunting and expensive task, yet with the help of community leaders, volunteered resources/technology and will of the Native American community, all 3 counties responded with voter turnout that surpassed that of the 2016 presidential election.

Reverend John Floberg said it best in a radio interview:

Is this finding a loophole? If the state of North Dakota wants to play games, then we’ll find ways to do that.”

Here is what I take away from this: Representatives want to win and to stay in power, and in order to protect their seat they will create barriers for individuals and communities to vote. I do agree with standard voter ID laws, but I do not agree with the clear intent to take away the ability/accessibility to vote from any citizen in this country. The reason for the Native American situation is clear and continually taken advantage of by those who should want to enrich these communities. It’s wrong. The fighting spirit of those in Nevada and North Dakota beat to a larger drum of the good government and democracy reform movement in this country, and like many of us on here and across the country, I am proud to be a part of the fight.

Ben Walton is the Head of Program Development for The People. Prior to working for The People, Ben served as the High School and College Coordinator for Voters Not Politicians. Ben received his BA in Political Science from Aquinas College in 2018

Diana Dakey

Diana Dakey

This is an important book. Thank you to the author for inspiring others by the stories it tells, and thank you to the Politics for the People book club for this discussion.

What the book drove home is how citizens must fight for equal rights with their elected officials.

Even in states with various forms of citizen initiative, there are stories of sitting politicians raising the bar to place citizen initiatives on the ballot, challenging single-subject wording, or, most egregiously of all, undoing voter-mandated reforms.

How, upon being elected, did politicians decide they were no longer among us? Weren’t they once ordinary voters like us? How did they become corrupted by power so that power in-and-of-itself is an aim?

I blame the two-party system and its reinforcement of power plays at all levels of what should be democracy. Most importantly, when independent voters are denied a voice in the primary, we continue to elect candidates who campaign on party purity (an absurd but enduring notion.)
I am acutely and sadly aware of partisan politics in Pennsylvania, where we are engaged in a fight for redistricting reform as well as equal voting rights for independent voters.

But I am encouraged by the nationwide trend of voters to reject partisan categorization by asserting their independence and demanding equal rights as voters.

Diana Dakey is an independent voter because she rejects the notion for herself and others that voters can be ideologically categorized into some notion of what is a Republican or a Democrat, when, really, those constructs are awkward coalitions kept together by party leaders to maintain party power. Politics should be about ideas and solutions, not power. She resides in Pennsylvania.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Al Bell

Al Bell is writing some short commentary on each chapter in UNRIGGED as he reads it. Join him in his exploration of David Daley’s book.

In this installment, Al reads Chapters 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and the Conclusion.

Chapter 7: Donald Duck and Goofy No More

Let’s be clear about this. Politicians who choose to play games with our electoral system rather than doing the hard work of serving the people they allegedly represent are behaving in immoral, anti-American, duplicitous acts for which they should be deeply ashamed. That goes for lobbyists, campaign strategists, fundraising operatives, donors who contribute to such behavior and anyone else complicit in that kind of activity. They may be clever; they may even be highly intelligent. But they are patriotic dwarfs and they dishonor the very heart of the Great American Experiment.

I do not know how they find it in their wildly distorted moral code to justify such behavior.

What I do know, now that I have read this chapter of David Daley’s exceptional experience living with real American heroes for many months, is that true Americans exist and they are able to create leverage that operates far beyond their individual fighting weight. One of the most distorted legislative districts in America is—was, that is—in Pennsylvania, home to a cesspool of cartoonish characters betraying the public trust. The story of how this cabal was outmaneuvered by a piano teacher, a youth pastor, a pro bono attorney, a young number cruncher and a computer whiz. We would probably label the last two as nerds. In this case, they enabled a map to tell a truth that not even a loaded court could ignore.

One of the most impressive aspects of this tale is the amazing pivoting power of the team for the people in dealing with obstacles thrown at them by the power structure. Perhaps, in this case, the small size of the team was a blessing in disguise that allowed them to move fast and focus brilliantly.

I do not know what seed of commitment grows in Americans like the sterling examples described here, but the evidence is overwhelming that it has immense power to make the truth invulnerable to the forces seeking to conceal it. Now, this is a tale of woe for the distortionists worth reveling in!

Chapter 8: Mathematicians Enlist for Duty

The minds populating this chapter leave mine so far behind, you could wonder if they are made of the same cell structure. I do. They talk a language I will never understand and view the world through prisms I cannot perceive. And they blew apart bankrupt theories about why candidates should select voters instead of voters electing candidates.

What is even more inspiring to me—you can be inspired by what you cannot possibly understand?— is that they not only knew how to unearth the devious practices of political operatives dedicated to exploiting voters; they knew why their unprecedented application of genius mattered. In the words of one of them, “I would like some day to live in a democracy.” Yes, wouldn’t we all (well, most of us)?

Default by the Supreme Court places crafting common sense legislative district boundaries at the state level, where maps are beginning to tell the only story logic would normally require. Logic and politics, of course, have trouble occupying the same space; sort of a mental law of physics. I was particularly fascinated to learn that the secret to unraveling thousands of district map boundary schemes actually originated with the Manhattan Engineer District, the mystical organization that produced the first and second atomic bombs in 1945. Who would have guessed that this esoteric product of the world’s top physicists would come back to help rescue the nation again—this time, not from axis forces dedicated to destroy democracy from the outside, but from political forces intent on doing the same thing from the inside? Ironies abound.

Chapter 9: People Power

In a sense, the title of this chapter manifests in all of the stories related to us by Mr. Daley. One of the central messages weaving throughout the book is that people power, properly recognized, is capable of accomplishing great things, especially when the power structure is overplaying its hand.

This chapter reveals one of the more sordid features of the “stacking, packing, and cracking” strategies embodied in legislative district boundary manipulation in recent years. It entails collusion between both parties and gamesmanship to preserve representation by citizens of color that helps to create byzantine, distorted maps that intentionally avoid legitimate representation. It is more complicated than that, but the point is that party strategists are looking through the wrong end of the tube.

Competent, highly motivated, energized people are making the difference. They may or may not have a lot of experience with political matters, but that can be an advantage. They see things the traditional party players miss. What stands out to me in this chapter is the combination of extreme personal commitment—far beyond what most of us would make—and technical moxie that most of us don’t have. These are highly impactful people and they apply their talents fighting the hard knocks the system routinely delivers. We read here about real American patriots in the finest tradition of that term.

I hope I live long enough to see their names on a desk somewhere in a state or federal legislative chamber, knowing what they know, applying what they believe and heading off at the pass the lobbyists, campaign machines, bought-and-sold legislators and other ne’er-do-wells who fail to grasp that our democratic republic is actually worth treating with respect.

My sense, so far, from the stories through Chapter 8, is that we have an almost perfect trifecta of circumstances to give us hope: 1) experience with an administration that has neither the intent nor the capacity to govern; 2) a pandemic that threatens to turn reality on its head and our economy on its ass; and 3) a cadre of caring, competent, recently experienced, mostly young Americans who can make better things happen. Reminds me of the can-do desperation during World War II that enabled the US and our allies to turn back the forces of destruction. Battling Back is an apt part of David’s book. Chapter 9 admits us to the trenches.

Chapter 10: Punching Up Down-Ballot

We tend to think from top down. Who’s the leader? What is the top brass saying and doing? What’s the point in having leaders if we don’t follow them?

The only problem with this picture is that it is increasingly upside down. Some really sharp (mostly) young people figured out that the way to rebuild our democratic republic is from the foundation up. Many observers have long bemoaned declining participation in clubs, organizations, city and district offices, and similar opportunities that have historically bred candidates for higher office.

Mr. Daley tells how this came about, offers some arresting examples and, in the process, leads my mind down a rabbit hole to a scene something like this.

I’m sitting in a football stadium. It’s a practice game, but with actual opposing teams. The Dems’ team is larger, but the Repubs are still fielding all the positions. Somehow, there seem to be a lot of coaches on the field, far more on the Dem side than the Repub side. Despite this being a practice game, the stands are full of Dem party members on one side and Repub partiers on the opposite side.

The game starts and it soon becomes obvious that the Dems are rolling all over the Repubs. This must be because there are so many Dem coaches still on the field. Does the rule book allow this? It is all lost, however, on the party members in the stands. Instead of the cheering and shouting, as you would expect, they sit forlornly with their eyes sort of glazed over; witnessing, but not seeing or feeling. Almost as if they were watching a game of high-speed chess.

I ask a game official who those coaches are. Why, they are young turks who are rounding up and training players to overcome being cut out of so many games in the past. This is retribution time. And they are winning games in places they couldn’t even get tickets for, let alone play in, before.

Says me, So why is this so lopsided?

The official says, Well, it seems the Repubs spent a lot of time designing the rules so their players could run the ball unopposed. Both parties played that game, but the Repubs were much better at it.

Is that what the game is about?

Not at all, but the point wasn’t just to beat the opponents, it was to make sure their chance at winning was impossible. Who cares why? Now, those coaches are changing the ball game whether the rules change or not.

Then I snap back to the page and try to digest what a powerful sea-change is going on. This is big, on its way to becoming huge. Brought about by ultra-competent and highly energized Americans who actually believe in the Great American Experiment.

Chapter 11: Maine’s Ranked Choice

I do not know a lot about ranked choice voting. What I do know is that one of the most powerful tools we have in the U.S. is the fifty states and the experimenting they can offer in doing governance better—or at least trying. What the Maine story conveys is how entrenched power structures can sometimes do anything and everything to flaunt the will of the people they allegedly serve. It also presents evidence of how a bizarre character from out of a leadership nightmare can serve as a spark plug to ignite cumulative gases of rotting incompetence through every fault of his own. Novelists would be hard pressed to invent such a character.

The experience in Maine is powerful testimony to the resilience and persistence of highly motivated citizens in the face of immoral, cowardly and self-serving behavior by elected officials who feel their power is threatened. As it clearly deserves to be.

The Maine voting system, now finally in place, will teach us all some important things about their approach. As always, that system needs to be evaluated not only in terms of its declared intent, but also in comparison to other experiments and practices in other states.

What I think of as the Phantom Question is always appropriate, even (or, especially) when it is never consciously articulated: Compared to what? There is always a “what.”

It is also evident that it is the voters whose opinion counts. The parties and other interests certainly have a legitimate (sometimes) stake in it, but the system belongs to the voters. Let me say it again: the system belongs to the voters. Not the parties. Not the pundits. Not the naysayers. Not the lobbyists. Not the news junkies or the armchair analysts. The voters.

One could even say, the people.

Chapter 12: Youth Saves the Day

Ah, youth. I remember it well, even though it’s quite a stretch with 86 years on the odometer.

David shares with us the dynamics of an almost ubiquitous target of voter suppression: college students. They congregate, as one might imagine, on college campuses and live there or nearby most of the year for however long they are enrolled. They also have feet at home, often miles or states away.

That isn’t the real problem for control freaks who want to cut certain voters out of the pattern, though. College campuses foment thinking that often doesn’t sit well with power structures. These are young people who are figuring out who they are and what they believe. It is a time of life intentionally intense—and unpredictable. Even worse, impervious to control beyond certain practical limits. And sometimes even those boundaries are vulnerable.

We meet young people who take on the system, are lied to by duplicitous legislators, become the targets of mostly Republican kingmakers (they wish), overcome ridiculous odds, and end up not only changing voting laws, but actually getting elected!

I am reminded that several of our revolutionary leaders in 1776 were in their early 20s and some even younger. Key ally, the Marquis de Lafayette, was 19 when he commanded his first American troops.

It’s in our genes; we just forget sometimes.


I was not prepared for the conclusion.

In a just a few pages, Mr. Daley makes clear the degree to which the Republican party operates with blatant disrespect for huge swaths of Americans. I can only conclude that its leaders do not believe in the idea of America at all. The Democratic party, on the other hand, has mostly checked out of the fray, leaving citizen patriots to represent our best interests. Thus, we are confronted by the dual specters of extortion and incompetence, respectively, by our dominant political organizations, reinforced by apathy, inattention, and outright ignorance by too many of us. Only after Mr. Daley’s documented parade of extraordinary civic heroes is it possible to digest the dismal truth about the state of the union; only with those examples is it possible to envision rescuing the Great American Experiment from its darker side.

It is no wonder that some 45 percent of registered American voters are unaffiliated with the parties. The wonder is that the number isn’t 65 percent or more.

What this intrepid author has exposed by living with real Americans in action as they took on the alleged “windmills” and mostly prevailed, is that we common, everyday, regular Americans actually do have solid values that respect fairness and concern for our fellow Americans. We just need to hear the right voices more often. Which includes those who are drowned out by the noise of cynicism or silenced by partisan subterfuge. This is why the stories we just read matter so much. This is the why; they are the how—just as promised by the book’s title.

I cannot leave this page empty of the supreme irony of these times and these (mostly) younger people who are, battle by battle, saving us from ourselves. After playing a leading role in rescuing the world from the Axis onslaught decades ago and treating our devastated enemies with unprecedented decency, we have gone on to leave our children and grandchildren with a mountain of financial debt, incomprehensible environmental desecration, mindless institutional destruction, and a social fabric fraught with painful injustice and inequity. The foundation remains, but the edifice is suffering badly. Repair has never been easy, nor will it ever be.

We are reminded once again that democracy is not a spectator sport.

These spirited Americans are taking up the challenges that threaten us despite the seriously decimated inheritance we pass on to them. If we are fortunate, they will treat us in memory more generously than we deserve. In any case, they are busy forging a future that “bends the arc towards justice.” As David reminds us, that requires the loving grasp of hands that care.

I am humbled by their inherent wisdom and their demonstrated patriotism, energy, dedication, and vision. It is true we are all in this, but certainly not together. That will never be achieved. We can, however, get much closer to that ideal than we are today with leadership of Americans like these to count on and be inspired by.

I am grateful to David Daley for devoting a slice out of his life to capturing the experiences and sharing them with such gripping detail and clearly respectful insight. His contribution to the cause is certainly a gift that will keep on giving—as long as we keep on paying attention.

Late Breaking:

If ever we needed evidence that the people chronicled in this book are showing up at the right time, read two articles in the June issue of The Atlantic magazine, one about QAnon and the other about Russia’s IRA, the Internet Research Agency. They both seek to destroy America, using the freedoms we enjoy against us. While the first is internal and the second an arm of a foreign adversary, they share a similar belief about America: it deserves to be brought to its knees through the process of death by a thousand slices. The first is practicing treason, the second, subversion.”

If we combine just these two forces with successive waves of virus invasions, the decimation of our economy, the glaring evidence of our dependence upon each other in ways we have denied for decades, and the intentional cynicism of way too many of our elected leaders, as evidenced by their dedication to hijacking our votes, we do have a challenge of epic proportions.

Many Americans complain a lot and still hope for the best. Others hope for the better and step into the fray to bring that about. Unrigged is vehement applause for the latter.

Thank you, Mr. Daley. Exceptionally well done! Compelling. Pivotal—if we listen and act.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Steve Richardson and Tiani Coleman

Steve Richardson

Steve Richardson with Jackie Salit

David Daley’s first book, Ratf**ked, opened my eyes to the extent – and stakes – of partisan games that have infested every state. UNRIGGED, while inspiring our struggle against seemingly overwhelming forces, also reinforces the message that the closer you look, the worse party politics get. The heroes that are so deserving of the author’s praise for their hard-won victories know this oh-so-well; so do those (like me) who have fought in the trenches and lost. The Maine ranked-choice voting story was déjà vu for me, as I had seen the same thing happen with term limits in Wyoming in the 1990s. If state law happens to allow voter initiatives and we have the audacity to use them, the legislature can reverse our measure and change the rules to discourage future initiatives. Secretaries of state and judges are creatures of the party system and inclined to protect the status quo, even if they are not dedicated to enhancing their own party’s advantage. Here in Virginia, a constitutional amendment to form an independent redistricting commission was passed by the General Assembly in a nearly unanimous vote just last year. However, when the Democrats took control of both chambers in the election last fall, they had a change of heart and almost managed to kill it when it came up for a (mandatory) vote again in this year’s session. It will not become law unless voters approve it in November – which gives the Democrats at least one more opportunity to defeat it and redraw the lines to their advantage while pretending to improve the proposal.

As Daley says in his excellent Conclusion, we have entered “the polarized hell that is red versus blue.” Democracy has been broken, he says, “actively and intentionally, by partisans who put their narrow ideological interests above all else, who chose to aggressively suppress and ignore the will of the people rather than committing themselves to listen to and represent all the citizens of a vibrant and ever-changing nation.” In “a battle for power and control as ancient as our republic itself,” thousands of Americans are joining together to assert our authority. Therein lies hope that we can reverse this pernicious trend and create the bright future we yearn for.

Clearly, we share a deep belief in equal representation. I am pleased to see, in this book, documentation of threats to democracy such as voting rights discrimination against former felons, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and even college students. Most of these offenses belong to Republicans, who have not managed to appeal to these groups and, apparently, would rather avoid doing so. However, Democrats have not been champions of all voters, either. If that were the case, they would have opened their primaries in every state to welcome independents and other voters who chose not to join the party but might have wanted to support one or more of the two dozen candidates for president.

I echo Dr. Jessie Fields’ concluding remarks on this blog, which call for reforms that go beyond partisan balance and reject party control altogether. We should continue to fight injustice wherever we find it and celebrate any and all wins. But we should not lose sight of the fact that these tactical battles are being fought on terms established by our opponents. Nothing short of a revolution in voters’ attitudes about partisan power will turn the tide. While we gather evidence of specific abuses and promote our solutions, we will have to convince our fellow Americans that no, we do not have to choose red or blue, and we do not have to “lean” either. Chapter 11 of UNRIGGED, which describes the remarkable journey of ranked-choice voting in Maine, indicates Daley’s awareness that even in a state with a proud history of independent politics, real election reform is extremely difficult. I hope he will consider applying his enormous talent and energy to telling the story of independent voters in his next book.

Steve Richardson is a founding member of the Virginia Independent Voters Association. Steve is a member of the Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet.

Friends Building a Movement of, by and for the People

Tiani Coleman

Tiani Coleman

Do you know what I like most about David Daley’s 2020 book, UNRIGGED: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy? It’s a book about my friends, some known by me personally and some not.

Do you know what else I like? I like how David Daley was able to illustrate, through examples, that “Keeping a democracy, it turns out, requires lots of work,” and he shows how ordinary people like you and me have the power to make meaningful change, and to keep fighting for government of the people, by the people, for the people — when we get push back, as inevitably happens.

Not only did I enjoy learning about some democracy reforms, or the standing up to anti-democratic legislation, in Alabama, Florida, Ohio, Kansas, North Carolina, Idaho and elsewhere, but I also had the pleasure of reading about such citizen actions I’m more familiar with, such as those in Michigan, New Hampshire, Utah and Maine.

It’s been so inspiring to learn about Katie Fahey’s work in Michigan, where she led a true bottom-up grassroots movement for redistricting reform, and to then meet Katie and feel assured that she and what she stands for is indeed “the real deal.” It’s been exciting to watch unfold, and even be a small part of, the independent voter partnership with The People, a group that is working to model this kind of successful reform mobilization by average people trying to fix what’s broken and keep our democratic republic vibrant and working for everyone.

Reading some of the details connected to Utah’s 2018 redistricting and Medicaid reforms that passed was reassuring as well. Sometimes, we wonder if fighting in the unseen trenches is even worth it. Will it ever make a real difference? But to read about the difference made by some of the people I interacted with closely a decade and two decades ago in Utah, only to discover that some of those people who I had high hopes for — but who I thought had faded away — were really still at it and were key in bringing about success in Utah, was deeply satisfying and inspiring. I was also taken aback by the telling of some of Utah’s chief opposition to democratic reforms, as I had also worked closely with some of those people in the past, before I became an independent. But . . . that’s another story. Of course, I had been following the initiatives and watched them pass with anticipation in 2018, but to read about it from an outside journalist and hear some of the details you don’t get from the typical coverage was empowering, actually.

The story in Maine is nothing short of amazing. Not only was it remarkable that they succeeded at getting enough signatures for a ranked-choice voting (RCV) ballot measure and got it passed, but to turn around and do it again when the legislature thwarted them, in the midst of intense legal challenges and freezing temperatures — with even higher percentages than the first time — is awe-inspiring. It’s an honor to have been, and to continue to be, in personal contact with Diane Russell, Kyle Bailey and Cara McCormick, as I lead NH Ranked Choice Voting, a citizen group aiming to accomplish something similar here in New Hampshire.

Daley briefly covers how democracy reform groups and voters on the ground here in NH have worked to push back on legislation aimed to suffocate the voting rights of college students. Now, with COVID19, NH citizens have been working to expand vote-by-mail. It’s also time to give greater voice and greater choice to voters via RCV. Voter Choice Massachusetts, not covered in Daley’s book, just got RCV on the ballot in MA for 2020. They’ve built one of the largest grassroots statewide movements I’ve ever seen. We’ve been working with Adam Friedman, the founder of Voter Choice Massachusetts, in addition to FairVote, the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, Unite America, and others. Putting some of their principles into action has helped us see some success we had been struggling to find. We learn from Fahey, Friedman, Bailey, McCormick and others that if we go directly to the people and build a people-powered movement, we can overcome the power of entrenched party interests, entrenched money interests, and entrenched special interests in general. We can finally succeed at passing reforms that strengthen our democracy.

Although the many activists Daley writes about find themselves having to keep fighting the good fight, as a victory is never the end of the road, we won’t quit. The powers that be always have more tricks up their sleeve, and never seem content to concede to “the people.” But the message of this book bids us to keep marching for democratic reforms that will help us have both greater liberty and full equality in our democratic republic. When we’re fighting for a just cause, and it’s a real movement of the people, nothing can stop it.

Something to think about in closing: one thing I noticed in the book is that most of the reforms Daley covered have been around for a while, but are just now picking up steam in the mainstream, and starting to see success. As independent voters, we support most of those reforms PLUS some reforms that are newer. . . such as “nonpartisan” primaries, fairly new to Washington and California, and are now being fought for in Florida and elsewhere; and top-four primaries that are being fought for in San Diego and Alaska. With patience and hard work, we can learn the lessons of not giving up and working to build a people’s movement around reforms that will give us all a level playing field. As Daley says in his conclusion, “Let us commit, all of us, to building a nation in which every voice is heard and carries the same weight.”

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Julia Hemsworth

An Illustration for Chapter 10:

Punching Up Down-Ballot

Julia Hemsworth is an up-and-coming illustrator from New York, as well as the administrative assistant at Independent Voting. You can find her work at jhillustrate.com and on her Instagram.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Ben Rose

Ben Rose

Ben and Katie Fahey, founder of Voters Not Politicians

David Daley’s UNRIGGED acts as a bright ray of hope and a reminder in these uncertain times that the power of the people can always prevail, even against overwhelming odds. My perspective of the book may be a tad different from the experience most got from reading it, however, as I was actually there for some of the events described in the book. I was a volunteer with Voters Not Politicians in 2018 during the campaign to create a citizens redistricting commission, and I was excited to see how Daley’s perspective of the history of the movement compared to my own. It felt almost surreal seeing canvases and protests that I was a part of chronicled as if they were major events in the history of our democracy. As I read through the chapter more, I realized that I was not just a part of the book in the sense that I was also a part of Voters Not Politicians, but I was also literally at the same canvasses that Daley visited to research the book. I remembered walking through neighborhoods, eager to knock on doors and change minds, and then leaving to go to Zoobies tavern later that night and having a sense of camaraderie with the over canvassers, even though we all came from totally different backgrounds. After I wracked my memory and double checked the back jacket cover, I even vaguely recalled taking a picture of Daley with Katie Fahey in front of our “end gerrymandering” quilt.

Ben Rose (r) with a group of Voters Not Politicians volunteers he organized at East Lansing Public High School, 2018

Now, when I was first writing this review, I thought that personal anecdote of how I participated in the events Daley was chronicling detracted from commenting on the greater story of election reform Daley was hoping to inspire us with, but after a little bit of thought I realized that all the movements Daley talks about in the book are not comprised of some heroic fighters for democracy, but rather ordinary people who were tired of the American ideal of democracy being tarnished by corporate interests and toxic partisanship. When I was volunteering for Voters Not Politicians, I didn’t have any feeling of historic weight attached to what I was doing. I was just one of the many concerned citizens working towards creating more fair elections. I think most people share this goal of wanting to live in a society whose leadership listens to the people, but many just think it’s impossible. In particular, I hear this sentiment a lot when talking to my fellow young people. A lot of my friends in college and high school didn’t want to engage with politics at all, and the most common reason I hear is that they think their “vote doesn’t matter.” What I liked so much about the final chapter of the book, “Youth Saves the Day,” was that it showed a positive example of when youth voters are able to shift voting systems to restore their democratic rights and make their voice heard.

Ben is a sophomore at the University of Michigan and is planning to major in Environmental Sciences. He is a Community Organizing Intern with The People this summer.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Susan Massad and Phil Leech

Dr. Susan Massad

I am loving this book. I think of it all the time in the various meetings/conversations these days which often veer off into the dark side. It is so hopeful to hear these stories of ordinary people taking on the corruption of our political system and realize how much the news makers are complicit in keeping things the same.

Susan Massad is a retired primary care physician educator who is on the faculty of the East Side Institute where she leads workshops/conversations exploring what it means for people to grow and develop in the face of serious illness, aging or memory loss. Susan is a long time independent activist with Independent Voting.

Phil Leech

I first met Katie Fahey in January, 2017 at a meeting in Lansing, MI. I had been a long-time advocate for redistricting reform in Michigan. Katie mobilized a phenomenal grassroots movement, which the citizen voters in 2018 approved, to have an independent commission determine legislative and congressional districts beginning in 2022. Thus, the phrase “VOTERS NOT POLITICIANS.”

I also became aware of David’s book Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy which portrayed how the process was controlled by the political party in control, using Michigan as background for the story.

I have been active with Independent Voting for a number of years and have participated in their book club, Politics for the People. When I learned they were going to highlight David’s book Ratf**ked, I contacted Katie and she participated in the call.

Thus a great relationship was formed and continues to this day.

I contacted David after the call and sent him the Voters Not Politicians T-shirt “Slay the Dragon.”

And I/we appreciate all you’re doing, and continue to do to level the playing field in our political process.

Phil Leech, from Spring Lake, Michigan, was a volunteer with Voters Not Politicians in 2017-18 and has been a long time member of Independent Voting. Phil’s philosophy is: “The glass is half full; not half empty; positivity defeats negativity; hope conquers fear; good conquers evil. To make the world a better place for all humankind.”

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Bryce Johannes

Bryce Johannes

I have difficulty seeing how the current representation model can be “reformed” into working. Specifically, there are 3 core issues that combine to mandate a truly transformative approach if we desire true, genuine and broad representation:

1) 60/40% issue: If 60% of the active voters in a district elect a representative, who represents the other 40% of the active voters who preferred the other candidate? Who represents the often 40% of potential voters who could stomach neither candidate? If the representative does not appear to advance the interests of the 60%, they will find someone who does.

2) Single issue problem: If I choose a representative based on Issue A because that is most important to me, but disagree with her on Issues B, C and D, who represents me there?

3) Voter expectations: How can voters possibly be expert enough in all the complex policy topics to make intelligent voting decisions, given their own jobs, interests and responsibilities? All that is possible is manipulation, which we see plenty of.

Responding to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense which was exciting a lot of common people after the War for Independence, John Adams explained in his Thoughts on Government the critical importance of solid representation and that his generation would not be providing it:

The principal difficulty lies, and the greatest care should be employed in constituting this Representative Assembly. It should be in miniature, an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them. That it may be the interest of this Assembly to do strict justice at all times, it should be an equal representation, or in other words equal interest among the people should have equal interest in it. Great care should be taken to affect this, and to prevent unfair, partial, and corrupt elections. Such regulations, however, may be better made in times of greater tranquility than the present, and they will spring up of themselves naturally, when all the powers of government come to be in the hands of the people’s friends. At present it will be safest to proceed in all established modes to which the people have been familiarized by habit.”

Never has there been a concerted effort to develop a working “government of, for and by the people”… I think it is time we give it a try, that we take up John Adams’s call for a future generation to bring about true representation. From my personal experience, the effort can not only produce the organizations and infrastructure of public policy making that we need (one that people can trust) but can also heal the divides created by our broken system. It is something we can work on together, for us all.

Bryce Johannes is the author of the book When People Unite.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Reader’s Forum — Al Bell

Al Bell is writing some short commentary on each chapter in UNRIGGED as he reads it. Join him in his exploration of David Daley’s book.

In this installment, Al reads Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Chapter 2: Aboard Idaho’s Medicaid Express

David chronicles the adventures of some improbable characters, saddled together in a couple of end-of-life RVs, wandering the back roads of Idaho, turning the political world upside down. Three millennials sharpened their creds in the community of Sandpoint by convincing reluctant voters to support a recently rejected school funding measure that went on to win by a two to one margin. The lesson: door-to-door contact enabling real conversations with real people flipped the odds. You would have to know Sandpoint in a state like Idaho to appreciate the significance of their breakthrough (I’ve been there).

They doubled down and went on to accomplish the truly impossible statewide to overcome ridiculously powerful political resistance to fill the yawning Medigap “doughnut hole” for desperate citizens their elected officials were willing to write off. That endeavor scaled up lessons learned to a 61% win.

Moral of the story:

Keeping a Democracy, it turns out, requires lots of work.”

Don’t forget that phrase.

My observation: Millennials are democracy’s secret weapon. This book is a veritable arsenal.

Chapter 3: The Defeat of the Voter Fraud Myth

Chris Kobach is a pathetic, anti-American disaster. Chapter 3 explains why. The fact that he was an actual candidate for the governorship of a state in America is one of the most powerful indictments of this Nation in decades. We should be ashamed of ourselves. He has no shame, so the point is lost on him.

Despite Kobach being the despicable destruction machine that he is, a simple, decent official from the State of Maine emerges as the American hero no one has heard of. How gratifying that we now know his story and his role in destroying the destroyer. The contrast between the two is astonishing.

Chapter 4: Native Americans Battle Back

Our history is strewn with amazing feats of accomplishment and astonishing acts of evil and exploitation. The awful selling of black Americans down their long, painful, trail of tears is relatively well known, though typically diminished in its telling. The demonization and exploitation of Native American tribes and the duplicity of many of our leaders in suppressing their humanity is a monstrous blot on our American heritage. This is a part of our behavior as a nation that erodes our past and clouds our present. This tragic reality struggles for redemption and often fails.

However, in a county in Utah, the dedication of contemporary Native American heroes manages to achieve an extraordinary breakthrough in local representation. The lessons learned there have been carried to other states in which illegitimate strategies dominate party politics. North Dakota provides an impressive object lesson in what the trend looks like.

Chapter 5: Michigan’s Redistricting Revolution

If you only read one chapter in this book, this is the one. That does not diminish the power of the others nor the significance of the people involved in other adventures. It is just that the Michigan experience and the leadership that fomented it are exceptional examples of what happens when real patriots get organized around a pivotal issue and bring it home.

This chapter is also a chronicle of real heroism. Imagine standing on the eve of a major event that has been bought by the energy of literally thousands of people who have devoted multiple thousands of hours of their time, pursuing a vision that the experts discounted is illusory, with the potential to change the lives of even more thousands of citizens, and it all rests on a state supreme court decision with the balance of members loaded against you by a 5-2 ratio. The politicos still think you’re crazy. And then, your case prevails by a 4-3 margin. And you have never been involved in grass roots politics before. And you aren’t even thirty years old yet. And the people win and the message goes viral and a powerful movement is joined by a new force.

I think of heroism as nothing at all like fearlessness; rather, it is knowing fear and going ahead anyway.

There is so much more, even so. The leadership team and collaborative spirit of the whole enterprise are evidence of a “way of going” that vastly exceeds the contribution of any one person. The multiplier effect is central to the whole experience and its story. Therein lies the immense power of The People.

If you can read the story of Katie Fahey and The People and not stand up and cheer, it’s because somehow you’ve been strapped to your chair with duct tape on your mouth.

Chapter 6: Redistricting Goes National

As exceptional as the Michigan adventure is—and it does take your breath away—there are five other states in which significant breakthroughs engineered by motivated citizens overcame seriously entrenched party establishments committed to choosing voters rather than the other way around. None of these breakthroughs were easy (they shouldn’t be); each was different in important respects. They all share this, however: common, ordinary, regular, everyday, plain citizens (among the various labels the elites apply to the rest of us) can turn the tables on party control masters.

What shines through in this chapter is that the circumstance, backstory, pivotal characters, partisan/non-partisan mix, historic patterns, and richness of common ground discovered amid a wide array of motivations enjoy a diversity of almost fictional inventiveness. This tells me that no situation is impervious to improvement. Perfect is always illusory; better can be highly worthwhile. And better is eminently achievable if a few key people tune in to the opportunity and choose to throw away the blinders.

The key takeaway:

When voters are given a choice, fairness wins.”

Now there’s a concept for you!

I just read this today in a Time Magazine column by Colum McCann:

What if [this virus] can allow us to see that we’re not as stupid as our political parties want us to be, or as unidirectional as our TV channels seem to think we are?”

My response:

Mr. McCann, the proof was underway long before the virus struck. Read UNRIGGED.”

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


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